Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Letter to My Daughters :: About the –isms



Dear Daughters,

Racism.

Feminism.

Terrorism.

The –isms. Words that have become part of our everyday language. Issues that scream for our attention, our compassion, our consideration. Issues different from one another, but important just the same.

And that’s not to mention so many others we talk about.

Atheism.

Capitalism.

Socialism.

Ageism. (I’m kinda sensitive to this one.)

A quick online search for a “list of isms” will produce over 200 words that have become their own distinct belief systems. But, more than that, they are ways of categorizing people or keeping them apart from one another. Worse yet, they become ways of discriminating against people who aren’t like us.

Today’s –isms have created an “us against them” world, and these ways of defining people confront us every day, pointing out differences, promoting hate.

In just the past two weeks we have seen racial violence of the highest order and a terrorist attack like none other. Not to mention that the country of Turkey (and how many others?) is in upheaval.

It leaves us wondering, “How much more can we take?”

I mean that quite literally. When we are bombarded every single day by news of one terrible occurrence after another, all of which we are told to care deeply about, I think we start to wonder how to do that.

How do we stay emotionally engaged with our world when there is so much violence and destruction calling for our attention? How do we love in a world so divided by -isms? We just want a little peace already!

Girls, I want you to know something in order to both guard against it and to deal with it when it happens to you. Compassion fatigue is a real thing.

Sometimes, in response to all of the tragedy around us, we lose our capacity to care. We act indifferent. We may even shut down.

It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we simply cannot.

So let’s say you have a family—you will probably spend the bulk of your emotional energy caring for the people under your roof. That’s as it should be. And then, say, a family member gets sick or you have some big decisions to make about work. More emotional energy used up.

But that’s not all. You have close friends with needs that you should also rightly care about. And a church family full of hurting people who need your attention. The circle of care widens, stretching its boundaries until you think it may burst.

Maybe your community is affected by racial violence, like many in our country did last week. You hurt some more. And then you look around and see that the world is falling apart and protests occur loud and strong, and you realize that there is just so much to care about until your emotional energy is spent.

Our bodies and our minds weren’t made to handle this much sadness. We may even watch the news and feel despair or fear about the days ahead.

My darling daughters, here’s what I want say: Do not give in to despair. Do not fear. (How many times does Jesus tell us not to fear? A LOT!) And do not give in to compassion fatigue.

God, in his wisdom, has given us just what we need to combat the fears and stresses of the world we live in. That’s the great thing about the Bible—it’s timeless. It always speaks to where we are today.

Just last week I read this verse: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Do you know how comforting that is to me? When I worry about your futures or the futures of the grandchildren I may someday have, when I think about the tragic occurrences of the past two weeks, I can remember that Jesus has it covered. He came to overcome the world and all its trials and tribulations.

He knew there would be terrorism. He knew about racism. He knew that hard days would come, but he’s got it covered already because of his death on the cross.

Here’s what I also want you to know: God does not want us to give up on compassion, but he understands compassion fatigue. Even Jesus had to pull away for a while, to get away from the crowds to pray.

So how should we handle the –isms calling for our attention these days? How do we handle compassion fatigue? I have a few ideas (you knew I would!).

Michah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

1. Pray. We cannot know God’s will for us if we’re not talking to him about it, so pray that God would show you the –isms that he has placed on your heart. We can’t do everything, but we can do something right where we are, so pray for compassion for the issues God has equipped you to care for. And don’t worry about the rest—that’s why there is a huge world with people who care for different things.

2. Continue to seek justice in your everyday life. Again, we cannot solve every problem or fix every person, but we can be people of integrity who watch out for others. This doesn’t mean that you have to stand in on a protest. It simply means that whatever you can do to seek justice, do it. Refuse to overlook injustice when you see it.

3. Be kind. Oh, how our world needs a little more kindness. And it can start with you. Forget cynicism (another –ism!). Forget backstabbing gossip. Forget lying. And just be nice.

4. Walk humbly. Learn from others as you learn from God. Listen well. Love well. Take your eyes off of yourself and make those around you feel like they are the most important people in the room. Pray for humility.

These are the things God requires of us. Nothing more; nothing less.

Girls, as you go out into the world each day, don’t be overwhelmed by the trials. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, seeking God’s will for your life, following his call, and the rest will take care of itself.

He is with you always. Even until the end of the age.

I love you so.


Mom

Thursday, July 14, 2016

But God . . . {A fun, exciting, crazy announcement!}



Sometimes you wait for something for such a long time that you think it may never happen.

Sometimes you hope and dream for so long that you almost decide to give up.

Sometimes you wonder if your dreams are just crazy or that you’re not up to the dream after all or that you’re getting too old to actually accomplish it.

Sometimes you doubt. A lot.

But then God does something so entirely unexpected that you just have to believe He was in it all along, just waiting to gift you with your dream when the timing was just right.

That’s my story these days.

After years of trying, discouragement, rejection, discouragement, hope, and more discouragement, I was ready to quit my dream. I regularly told myself, “I’m not really a writer” or “I’m too old for this” or “Nobody wants to hear what I have to say anyway.”

(Lies! All lies, by the way.)

But God.

He planted the dream many years ago, and he had a crazy plan all along. How he chose to unfold that plan is crazy in itself!

Last spring I went to a writer’s conference—one I had attended several times in the past—where I taught a class on writing prompts. But this year I decided to get a little bit brave and submit my book proposal to editors before I left. There’s a service for this kind of thing at this conference. If an editor sees your proposal and likes it, they can contact you to set up an appointment during the conference.

And that’s what happened. Two editors contacted me and wanted to talk about my idea.

Turns out that they both liked my proposal and wanted to take it further on down the publishing road. Now, what you have to know is that this road is very long and winding and sometimes comes with road blocks and detours, often with no communication at all. You just have to wait until the traffic clears and more people see your proposal and give you a green light.

Or reject you. Which is what happened to me on the Wednesday of our beach vacation back in June.

There I was, sitting on the beach, enjoying some precious time away with my family, when I stupidly checked email to find a rejection letter from one of the publishers I had spoken to back in April. (There’s a lesson here: don’t check email from the beach!)

Tears ran down my face from behind my sunglasses, and I broke the news to my family later that evening.

I was pretty sad. Not necessarily surprised (I have had plenty of rejections in the past), but sad. And questioning whether I should keep writing or just hang it up.

I’m not sure what I did the next day—I think I took a long bike ride or something—but I know I had a heavy heart hangover that morning. I couldn’t face social media, so I just stayed away from my computer until around lunchtime when I quickly checked email.

Remember how I said I had talked to two editors? I hadn’t heard much of anything from the second one, and I had kind of written them off too. I figured I’d get in touch with them after vacation, but again, I didn’t have much hope.

But on Thursday of vacation, the day after my rejection, there was an email from the editor of the second publisher telling me that they were going to be looking at my proposal THAT DAY and he’d be in touch the following day to let me know the outcome. I kind of laughed at the timing, then prayed hard and asked my family to pray as well.

And then we went to the beach.

Later that night I checked email again to find a note from the publisher telling me that they liked my proposal and, get this, THEY WANTED TO PUBLISH MY BOOK!

You guys, that was 24 hours after the rejection. Twenty-four hours!!!

To say my head was spinning would be an utter downplay of how I was feeling. How on earth could I go from such a low point the day before to finding out that I was going to receive a contract? It still feels surreal to me.

But God.

Here’s what I know. There is no way any of this was a coincidence. God knew all along that I was going to get rejected, but He arranged it so that I was on vacation with my family. No better people to get rejected with!

Not only that, but he also arranged for the second publisher to look at my proposal the very next day. How crazy is that?! VERY CRAZY!

And that is how I know that God has said, “OK, Shelly, the timing is just right for you to pursue this dream.”

You see, for so many years the dream of writing a book has been stirring in my heart, but the timing hasn’t been just right. I loved being a mom to my kids (I still do!) and wanted to be here for them while they were here at home. I also loved being a professor and a mentor to students.

But my youngest is off to college soon (!) and my nest will be empty in the fall. I stopped teaching a year ago, so I have time to write now (as long as I can discipline myself to actually do it!).  The timing, for me, is just right.

And the book? I’m excited to tell you that it’s a book about parenting with purpose and intentionality. It’s about asking why we do what we do to instill spiritual and family values into our kids instead of asking how.

Because I firmly believe that if we start by asking why, the how will follow. 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey by praying for me as you think of it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more as time goes on, but today, I just want you to laugh along with me at the timing and the goodness of God.

*****

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intentional Service



When I wrote about teaching our kids about service a fewyears back, I talked about the benefits of service and how we can model service for our kids. I still think those points are valid. I still think serving others is fulfilling, joyful work. I still think there is so much to gain by serving others.

But as I’ve been thinking about this post since my last parenting post, I’ve been convinced that there is and should be something more to our thoughts about serving others and to what we teach our kids about service.

Recently I read Philippians 2 where Paul encourages Christians to take on a new attitude—one that is completely different from the world around them.

You see, the world around the Christians in the early church was probably not too different from the world around us today. Christians were being persecuted. The secular world opposed the message of Christianity. Everyone was out for Number 1.

And Paul knew that it wouldn’t take much for the Philippian Christians to get discouraged by the world around them. (Sound familiar?)

So he sends them this amazing letter of encouragement. It’s a letter that screams “JOY!” from every page, which is totally ironic when you consider that Paul is writing from a prison cell.

In Philippians 2, Paul gives some practical tips for living together as the church and for living in the world around them.

“Agree wholeheartedly.”

“Love one another.”

“Work together with one mind and purpose.”

“Don’t be selfish.”

“Think of others as better than yourselves.”

Could it get any more practical?!

Well, actually, Paul thinks it can, because he adds one more example, that of Jesus himself, and he tells the Philippians (and us) how to REALLY live.

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Oh really, Paul? What was that?

He tells us: Be a servant.

A servant? Jesus was the Son of God, why did he have to serve others?

And that’s the point—He didn’t.

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave (the ESV says “servant”) and was born as a human being.” (NLT)

In order to get his message across, a message about the kingdom of God and the Good News that people really needed to hear, Jesus didn’t shout it from the mountaintops (OK, maybe sometimes he did that). He lived it. Every day. Humbly.

Jesus showed the people around him that Christianity is very different from the rest of the world. When the world is trying to get ahead, Christians open the door. When the world looks out for selfish interests, Christians make others look better.

When the world spits at Christians, mocks them, hates them, Christians look to Jesus on the cross, the most humbling act of love a person could ever have done.

And there they see true servanthood.

So what does this have to do with intentionally teaching our kids the importance of service? I guess I’m learning that along with the benefits, we need to show our kids that true service comes at a cost. That is isn’t always fun or easy or cheap to serve others.

And we may never hear, “Thank you.”

Oh sure, we can all come together to clean up a run-down playground and feel great about our efforts. We can pat our kids on the back when they take part in a service day through their school. We can feed the homeless alongside our kids for an evening. All of that is great.

But what about the day-in-and-day-out of serving those who are hard to serve? Even those who live right under the same roof as us? 

Sometimes serving our family is harder than serving the homeless.

But we’re still called to do it.

I bumped into a friend the other day, and she told me a story that prompted this post. She and her husband recently moved his elderly parents across the country so that they could care for them here.

It hasn’t been easy (although I’m sure she would say it has had its moments of joy). It has cost my friend time, effort, and money. It requires daily visits to check in on them. And the whole family is needed to help out.

One of my friend’s kids asked her, “Mom, are you getting paid for this?”

Because, of course!

We laughed about that, but we also talked about how her children are getting to see the hardest lesson about service firsthand.

Yes, some types of service are voluntary. Yes, there are occasional rewards. And, yes, serving others can be fun.

But mostly, serving others costs us something. Mostly, serving others is hard. It may take a huge toll on us. And usually nobody else notices.

But then I go back to Philippians 2, which talks about Jesus’ example, and I see the outcome of his sacrifice: that God has exalted him. Not just that, but that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is LORD.” (Phil. 2:10-11)

True service doesn’t do it for the rewards, and obviously we won’t be exalted as Jesus will, but we can trust that God sees our hearts. He knows us completely. And He will bless us for serving Him.

I’ll admit, teaching our kids to have a heart of service isn’t easy. At all. But we can model it ourselves, every day. We can talk to our kids about serving, even their family. We can encourage them to serve as often as possible, even if it hurts.

And we can remind our kids about the greatest example of servanthood ever found—the example of Jesus.

*****
Previous posts in my Intentional Parenting::Reprise series:

*****
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Monday, June 20, 2016

Catching Up and a Book Review

Well hello there! As much as I hate having to do a "catching up" post, it seems like one is warranted today because I realize I've been AWOL lately.

The past two months, frankly, have been crazy. It's a wonder I've been able to write here at all with all of the commotion of end-of-school activities, graduation, a quick trip to PA, a family vacation, and a couple of birthdays thrown in for good measure. I hate to recap like that because everyone has busy lives and everyone can say that things have been crazy and everyone has an excuse as to why they haven't done what needed to be done.

Still, I want to catch up with you!

Graduation weekend was so much fun. Any time family and friends come together to celebrate is fun in my book, and this was no exception. Julia finished with a flourish and we all closed a very special chapter in our lives.

I've spent a lot of time reminiscing over the past few weeks about our years in public school here, and when it comes down to it, I feel so grateful for all of it. Some years have been hard, both academically and emotionally. Some years have been fun, filled with teachers who made learning a blessing and a delight. Some years have just been stretching and growing years that we needed to simply hold on tight to get through to the other side (hello, junior high!).

Through it all we have been blessed with an amazing community that has walked alongside our girls, both neighbors and friends who have known them for their entire lives. And that's something we don't take for granted.

So graduation ended with a flourish and a party and maybe some banging of pots and pans as we ushered Julia into her next phase of life. But until that phase begins in August, there's a lot of sitting around and waiting--something that's not easy for any of the folks in this family. Two of our girls are waiting to leave home and fly into their next adventures, one is waiting to move to a new apartment, and B and I are waiting for the onslaught of emotions once everyone is in a new place and we are left here with an empty nest. (Stay tuned--we're going to be fine!)

As soon as the party favors and decorations were put away, we packed up our car and headed out for a week of family vacation. We decided to try hard to get everyone together this year since we weren't sure when that would happen again. The girls cooperated and took a week off of work, and I booked us a villa in our favorite vacation spot: Kiawah Island, South Carolina.


You guys. I just can't even begin to explain how special that place is to us, and how special our week was. I'm sure I'll write more about it soon, but let's just say that a week on one of the most beautiful beaches on earth was JUST what this family needed. We read, relaxed, and rode bikes all week. We ate wonderful seafood and played cards and watched our favorite movies together. We talked and talked and talked, as we do. All-in-all, I'd say the week was a success.


So now we're home and summer is in full swing. Soon we will be in all-out packing mode, but for now, we're just enjoying the long days and the beautiful weather.

*****

While I was on the beach last week, I read a few books that I wanted to tell you about.


I'm kind of in memoir mode right now, so I read A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg, which I loved so much. Every page made me smile, and Wizenberg's way with words made me gobble up every turn of phrase. Plus, she gives a ton of recipes throughout the book--one at the end of each chapter--several of which I'd love to try.


The second book I read was Julia Child's My Life in France (are you sensing a theme here?). Also a fun and interesting read that I'm sure I'll go back to in years to come. What an interesting life Julia led!


Finally, a book NOT in memoir mode, but also interesting if you're trying to understand people a little better. A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of A Teen's Guide to the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, so I saved it to read on the beach with my teenager beside me. (Ha!) It's a much simpler version of Chapman's classic book, written directly for teens (I'd say it's more geared toward younger teens as it might be a little simplistic for an older teen of, say, 18 or 19). The first half of the book outlines what the five love languages are, and the second half of the book talks about how to apply them, both for the teen and for their family members and friends.

This book is such a great resource for teenagers, a reading market that seems to be underserved in the non-fiction realm. It's practical. It's well-written directly to teenagers. It's helpful, especially during years when conflict might be at its peak in the home. And one of the best things about the book is that it gives godly advice without being in-your-face about it (teenagers hate that). It was great for me to read with my family nearby, giving me time to think about how I could best show love to them in this new season of life.

*****
So now I think we're fairly well caught up. It's a new week and a new chance to go out and "do small things with great love" as Mother Teresa encouraged us to do.

This week I'm going to try to write more, so stay tuned for a continuation of my Intentional Parenting::Reprise series and maybe a recipe on Friday.

What are YOU going to do with great love this week?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Dying Trees, Retiring Chefs, and Graduating Daughters


As I write this, I’m watching history being cut down. A large maple tree, which has probably stood in the middle of my back yard as long as this house has stood on our street, is being removed. The upper branches, still bright with new, green leaves, floating to the ground like blades of grass blown in the wind. The larger branches dropped, one by one, onto the plantings below.

And the main trunk, which from the outside still looked strong and sturdy, sawn in half and brought down with a *thud* that shook the whole house.

Problem is, that trunk was half dead. Full of rotting wood that crumbled at the touch.

This tree, the one that turned golden-orange in the fall and had been the source of many a jumping pile when my girls were younger, the one that held memories of high-soaring branches against winter skies, the one surrounded by hostas planted by previous owners, had become a hazard.

Over the weekend my husband wanted proof. He needed to know for sure that, should a violent storm suddenly blow in, the tree was a threat to our home. He took a pitchfork and stabbed at the bark a little. And that’s all it took. The bark pulled away, revealing more and more rotting wood underneath the surface.

As much as we didn’t want to admit it, the tree needed to go.

*****

I just learned that one of our favorite restaurants closed over the weekend. It was a tiny French restaurant that we had discovered several years ago in a neighboring town.

It was an unassuming place—cheesy d├ęcor, twinkling lights, and oilcloth covering the tables—with the most amazing food that has ever crossed my lips. The first time B and I ate there (probably for an anniversary or a special night out), we asked the waiter what we should order. We were new to French bistro food, and we weren’t sure whether we’d like it or not.

We shouldn’t have worried.

The waiter told us to order the short rib ravioli—it was one of the chef’s specialties—so we did. And when it came to the table we simply sat and drank in the rich scent with silly smiles on our faces. The fontina cheese and short rib meat combined with the deep, dark sherry sauce, simply deserved to be savored like a fine French wine.

Thus began years of family celebrations at that little French place with the famous chef who had cooked for the likes of Frank Sinatra at the Beverly Hills Hotel years before and many other famous people in France long before that.

But this place was his swan song. His retirement. His couronnement.

And it had become like home to us. A comfort. A warm meal on a winter’s night.

Now it’s gone, suddenly pulled away, memories never again to be made there.

*****

Over the weekend our youngest graduated from high school.

[Note: for some reason, I resist calling her my “baby,” even though she technically is. But I don’t like calling her that because she is not a baby, and I don’t want her to act like one. She happens to be the youngest in the line of three, eighteen years old, but she is not my “baby” any longer. Am I weird for thinking that way? Probably.]

So Julia graduated. And we celebrated.

Family drove and flew in from across the country. Friends came to a party we threw on Sunday. Blue and orange balloons (for her NEW school) floated across a perfect early-summer sky.

Our weekend was grand and fun (and also exhausting), but it was also another closing of the books as we will never again have a child in school here. The empty nest is looming.

At various parties we bumped into families and teachers from elementary and middle school days, and we reminisced about “back then.” We talked about how the kids have grown and where they are headed next.

Some, I know, would like to hold on to those “good old” days when everything seemed simpler and sweeter and more serene. But that’s not possible.

Time marches on. Trees die. Favorite chefs retire. And our children move on.

Yet our hearts are forever tied to those memories, those places, those experiences.

For me, time around that tree, over incredible meals, and with our wonderful children are times when I have laughed and dreamed and become just a little richer for the lives that have touched mine.

Today, I’ll admit, I’m struggling just a little with putting the past behind me. But I know the days ahead will be just fine—with or without that tree in our back yard; with or without the amazing food that we occasionally got to enjoy; with or without my children running through my house—because I know that my life is more than the past. I have been promised a future.

Today, despite some changes I don't necessarily like, I can look back and be grateful.