My Phone

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Smart phones have changed our lives.  I mean sure, they allow us to carry around maps, an encyclopedia, a bible, a camera, news, weather, and if we so desire, the ability to play Tetris at stop lights. (But don’t do that…it’s illegal.)  Smart phones let us stay in contact with everyone by text message, when all else fails an actual phone call, and who can forget the opportunities that smart phones provide to paint an exasperated picture of happiness on social media.  Smart phones also answer that age-old question that every “Gen-Xer” was always asked by every math teacher they ever had.  “Do you think you’re always going to have a calculator available??”  Surprise Miss Ater…yes…yes I will.  Every day we carry around a tiny little computer that can do virtually anything that any other piece of technology can do.

Tonight, I found myself looking through the pictures on my phone.  There is a historical collage of memories that document so many years.  I find myself looking through pictures of dances with the girls, nights out with friends, once in a lifetime experiences with the man I love, amazing vacations, moments of achievement, and (in true transparency) moments where I can look at myself and know…I was hurting.  Whatever the picture, whatever the moment worth capturing, there are moments where I cringe because I know that I had a deep painful ache on the inside.

As Thanksgiving approaches I can’t help but feel grateful for each of those moments.  I’m so grateful for the joy that is captured in so many pictures and the agony that I can see in my eyes in other photos. I thank God for the moments with my girls, the moments with my fiancé and the moments with family and friends.  I also thank God for the moments of pain.  I’m grateful because whether it’s the moments of ecstasy or the moments of despair, I am not the same person I was in each photo.  I look at each picture and know that the woman represented there is on a journey.  A journey to become a better mother, a better daughter, a wife, and ultimately a journey to discover who God wants me to be.  That woman I see in each picture full of joy and pain is headed down a road of discovery. 

Today while I plan to marry the man I love, enjoy having adult children, accept the reality of my parents aging, and embrace the changes that are inevitable in my career, I know that today is just part of the journey.  I know that regardless of where I sit at this moment, that I won’t be here a year from now.  Today is just a moment…a season.  Today I get on my knees and beg God to lead me in a direction that allows me to continue down that path of transformation.  As I faithfully trust God in my joy and pain, I know that everyday could be photo worthy.  

I’m so grateful for the pictorial documentary of how far I have come and so look forward to the journey ahead of me.  I know it will be full of good and bad times and that there is both joy and sorrow coming, but I know that God is faithful and is leading me.  I don’t know exactly where I am headed, and my smartphone has been utterly disappointing in giving step by step directions, but I know that God is still working on me.  I pray that His work continues to bring me closer to Him.  And Miss Ater, you should know that the handheld, always with me calculator is amazing.  No more timed math tests for me.

 

I’m Sorry

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There are certain special moments that young parents experience with their young children.  There are first words, rolling over for the first time, first steps, and first days at school.  There are so many milestones packed into only a handful of years that if you’re not careful you can get an almost historical whiplash that leaves you wondering where time went.   One summer day when I was relishing the joy of being a stay at home mom to my 3-year-old and 1 year old daughters, a “first” happened without any warning.  As I was preparing lunch one afternoon I heard the familiar cry of my youngest bellow out of the living room.  I went to find out what was going on and I saw my oldest daughter standing above her with her hand on her hip in a very 3-year-old diva pose.  For the first time in my young mom life, I uttered the words that would become a mantra for the next two decades.  I asked with hopeful anticipation, “Rebecca, what happened?”

Three-year old’s have a style of storytelling that can only be described as “brutally honest.”  Without hesitation, without the need to set up the situation, and without even a hint of regret in her voice, Rebecca answered, “I hit her.”  I scooped up my youngest and comforted her and proceeded to ambush Rebecca with a barrage of questions about why she would do that. I found the answers dismally unsatisfying and begin to realize I had some real parenting work to do, so I turned to Rebecca and said to her, “You need to tell Shannon that you are sorry.”

What happened next began the first standoff of my parenting relationship with Rebecca.  She said “No.”  So, in perfect self-righteous indignation, I pulled a small wooden chair from the kitchen, sat her in the middle of the living room and told her she would sit there until she apologized. In complete silence, she sat.  She sat while Shannon and I had lunch, sat while I folded the laundry, sat while I cleaned the bathroom, and dusted the bookshelves, and got the mail, and began to prepare dinner.  She sat.  After watching her sit in that wooden chair for six hours, I finally couldn’t take it and I asked her “Why won’t you say you’re sorry?” and her response was simple, “I’m not ready yet.”

That day I began to think about all the impulsive apologies I had given over the years.  All the responsive liturgy I had given when I knew I had wronged someone.  I was always so quick to apologize.  So quick to sweep the offense under the rug and so quick to just want to move on.  I wanted the words “I’m sorry” to be historical whiteout.  What I know today is that being sorry entails so much more than two simple words.  Being sorry means an acceptance of what happened and the consequences of your actions. 

Today I pray for sincere apologies and that I’m able to see how my wrongs affect others.  I pray that God will give me a spirit of true repentance and that I will invest in making that a reality in my life.  I pray that I will be given the grace to accept apologies and that God will continue to band aid the consequences of sin and hurt.  That day so many years ago marked many firsts, the first time the girls fought, the first-time Rebecca emphatically told me no, and the first time I made a three-year-old sit in a chair for 6 hours, but perhaps the most important first is that I realized that God was using everyday life to speak to me.  And God…I’m listening.

Here Comes The…Grace

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At the ripe old age of 41 years old, I find myself in the position of planning a wedding.  Although I admit there is very little actual “wedding planning” and much more “marriage planning” happening, I am without a doubt “planning”.  As I look through pictures of white dresses and leaf through appetizer menus, I can’t help but wonder what I want this moment in time to look like.

Weddings are a moment of promises and deeply felt intentions.  Weddings are full of idealized visions and sometimes excessive pomp and circumstance.  While, I intend to cherish the promise of covenant with the man I love, I want our wedding to be something different.

I hope that in that moment what is seen is two very flawed people. I hope that in that moment people see us not as an example standing at the altar, but as a people who need to be encouraged and held accountable.  I hope that in that moment they see hunger for spiritual guidance, for knowledge, and for faith.  I hope that in that moment they see the depth of love that we have for each other and that regardless of how arduous our relationship has sometimes been, that being together allows us to be a better reflection of who God created us to be than who we are when we are apart.

I pray that as we stand there and promise God to join our flawed sin-filled lives that the world sees our desire for unrelenting tenacity, unmatched work, and unquivering spirits of forgiveness.  So today as I look at white lace and decide where the food station should be in the party room, I sigh.  I know that my marriage will only thrive if God remains at it’s core and if we are determined to grant the same grace that we are given.  I pray that God softens our hearts and allow us to Just Breathe.

 

 

Getting Dressed

When my youngest daughter was little she had very particular style tastes.  We would meander through Target looking for something new for her to wear and I would hold up little sundresses and with my best Vanna White presentation, and I would ask, “Do you like this one?”  She would tilt her head from side to side, touch the fabric, and then give her 3 year old best fashionista verdict of “Yes Momma, I love it” or (and more often heard) a simple “Nope” accompanied by a dismissive head turn, as if she could no longer bear to look in that direction.  As we would continue to shop, I felt a genuine moment of parental affirmation knowing that while I was directing her decision, I was allowing her to help make choices.  It felt very Arethra Franklin like, knowing I was helping to empower my child to feel confidant in her opinions.

The next morning after our shopping experience, I laid her brand new dress on her bed,  I choose shoes from her closet that would most appropriately complete the ensemble, I laid out a ribbon for her hair and said six words…”Shannon, it’s time to get dressed!”  I stood by her bed picturing her “oohs and ahhs” over getting to finally wear the outfit she had just the day before chosen.  As she walked into the room, she smiled at me and then headed toward her bed to get dressed.  She quickly assessed the situation and looked up at me and said “What am I supposed to wear?”.  I laughed thinking that I’ve already helped her develop her satire skills, but then looked down at a very serious little face.  I pointed to the dress and reminded her that she would wear the dress that she liked so much yesterday.

Shannon turned to me and said the words that would begin the infamous war of wills in our house, “Momma, I like it, but I would NEVER wear it!”

While that was a “cold splash of water in the face” reality mom moment for me, it does make me think. How often do we see something we would like but would never actually do.  I hear stories about people who sacrifice every fiscal extra in their lives, who live on rice and beans to eliminate debt and pay off houses and I think “I love that!”  I see 60 year old women with abs of steel, who clearly invest hours a day on their bodies and I think “I love that!”  I see students who sacrifice social lives and nights out to study and get advanced degrees and I think “I love that!”  I see people who spend time daily in prayer and meditation and I think “I love that!” But how often am I the one saying, “I like it but I would never wear it!” 

As I begin to look forward to the next step of my life, I know that I see things all around me that I like.  Today I pray that while liking it is wonderful, I’m praying for the strength to make it happen.  As I look at my body, my finances, and my will to submit, I pray that I’m strong enough to wear the things I like.  I know that I love the plan that God has for me, so today I pray for the faith, courage and strength to wear it.  I see the plan, I like the plan, I even picked the plan out, so now it’s time to get dressed.

Graduation

 

This weekend I watched my youngest daughter graduate from high school.  It was a somewhat surreal experience, not because she moved out a month ago, but because she has been vocally complaining about senioristis since she was in kindergarten.  After 13 years of being miserable, she finally graduated, and with an exceptional gradepoint average.

It was amazing to watch this kid who locks her keys in her car, loses her checkcard “outside” the atm, and somehow manages to drop her cell phone in fountains graduate.  And yet, I believe in her.  She’s not a child content on riding on anyone else’s money, on anyone else’s charity and certainly not on anyone else’s pity.  She’s a child that through her life has been emotionally refined to know that her success is about her and no one else.

As her mom, I am afraid.  I’m afraid that I’ve not provided the suburban life setup that should be expected and that I have  miserably demonstrated a variety of “what not to do examples”.  But truly today, it’s not about  me.  Today it’s about my daughter.  About what she has learned, about what she believes, and about how hard she can fight. Today it’s about a child that is strong willed, a child who speaks her  mind, and a child that I’m terrified is more like me than anyone else in the world.

Today, I congratulate the class of 2016, and my daughter.  I’m so proud she made it through high school.  I’m proud that despite the gym teacher pulling her out of my car in elementary school, the middle school principal and I being on a texting basis, and her beginning the first day of high school by saying “I’m going to try and not get suspended today.” (as she slammed the car door shut in indignation and walked into the building), that we are here.  Today we start a new beginning.

Today, I wish her the best.  Be strong.  Believe in who you are.  Know that God loves you more than you can imagine.  Believe that love is the only answer to chaos, and that forgiveness means everything.  Every mess can be cleaned up.  Now…go do it.

Empty Nest

  It’s been a very long week for me.  Besides having to wake up every morning, make coffee, function at work, pay bills, and clean the bathroom…my youngest daughter moved out.  Okay, I admit that I’ve been late getting up multiple days this week, the coffee has been oddly full of grounds, the bills are not late (well not REALLY late) and the bathroom is only clean if you aren’t really completely awake when you use it.  After 20 years of being an all in, full-time, completely envolved mom, I find myself with a completely empty nest.
I know that parents go through this all the time.  Kinda.  Their kids leave for college and come home during breaks and holidays, but both of my girls have moved out.  No summer break or Christmas vacation.  My girls have their own apartments and their own lives.  I’m blessed that after years of disfunction, they are able to be strong independant faithful women.  So blessed that they are scrapers, and trying to make it on their own.  I know that I still help buy groceries, and occasionaly bribe them with dinner…leftovers…homemade cookies…and if needed a vaccum cleaner or toaster oven, but honestly, it’s just because I love the children that I’ve raised.  
I love who they are today.  I love their sense of humor, their zest for life, their appreciation for where they come from, and their believe in a God that loves them.  I genuinely enjoy spending time with my girls.  They are fantastic people.  Fantastic developing people.  But above all I love their hope.  Their hope for the future makes me hopeful.  It makes me want more for them…and actually more for me!!  And while this empty nesting mom sighs in uncertainty, I feel a genuine hope for who my girls are and the things they will accomplish. While I pray that their lives will be spared of heartache, I know that we all experience setbacks and turmoil.  So today I pray that my girls are strong warriors that can battle through the trials that life will undoubtedly give them.  I pray that they will know that standing behind them is a mom that loves them unconditionally, and loves them despite their unevitable bad choices.
So today, as I set the alarm (in hopeful preperation for an ontime wake up), I know that I have been a faithful mom.  I’ve not been perfect, but I have been intentionally trying to be true to who God has called me to be as “Mom”. There may still be coffee grounds in the coffee tomorrow, and I may still need my friends to occasionally pick me up off the floor in grief, but I know that life is just beginning.  It’s just beginning for the children I have invested in, and truly just begining for me.  So, God, what’s your plan??