Order Up!

Growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s, my childhood home had both a kitchen table and a dining room table, but rarely did we eat meals outside the confines of the kitchen. Nothing extraordinary, the dining room table was pretty much reserved for homework and holidays. For a while that dining room table was even home to something that may very well have been the first of its kind in our suburban neighborhood, an Apple II computer. At our kitchen table, every day a folded newspaper would be waiting next to my father’s place setting. The food was served from pots rather than in serving dishes, probably to keep one of us four sisters who was on washing duty that week from complaining about too many dishes. You see, the automatic dishwasher didn’t appear in our childhood home until us girls were all grown and slowly leaving the nest. Although I don’t recall deep intellectual conversations around the dinner table, I do recall lots of nonsensical chatter occurring, us sisters babbling on about something from the day all the while my father read his newspaper.

Years later, I would eat dinner for the first time at the family home of my future husband where the food was served at the dining table in serving dishes.  Moreover, those serving dishes were passed around in clock-wise fashion. There was no free-for-all, like at my house. Afraid to speak much, everything seemed very proper there. At age eighteen, I decided I was in no way going to appear manner-less in this new environment, so for me, it was best to say as little as possible. I recall there not being as much conversation at this dinner table, which made me (an introvert) just a tad uncomfortable coming from a home where not much was off limits. I remember being afraid to ask to have the salt passed; (1) because we didn’t pass things at my house. If you wanted it, you simply raised yourself from your seat and reached for it and (2) due to the fact that there wasn’t much conversation to distract me, I was quick to observe that no one in this family seemed to salt their food. Maybe they would think less of me for wanting to add a dash or two … or three of my second favorite condiment (chocolate being my first) to my meal. It was at this table that I learned that there is a correct direction to pass food, that you don’t start eating your dessert until the hostess has served everyone and is seated again, and the table where grace was consistently said.

Fast forward again, married and our family completed (for the time being) with four kids, I discovered that Tim and I developed a mix from both childhood tables. Chatter, sometimes loud and incessant, from mine and etiquette from Tim’s.  It works well; so well that not only when Tim designed the house in which we now reside did he make our dining room size conducive to having our extended family sitting around the table, but the kitchen space has that ability as well. Our kitchen is the space you walk into when you enter the main door of our house. It’s also larger than our family room and he did this on purpose. Apparently, over the years he was doing some observing of his own. He witnessed that in many houses, family and friends gather around the kitchen spaces instead of the family room. I have noticed countless times where we have had a houseful of people and no one was in the family room. We have an open floor-plan, so overflow can happen easy. It didn’t matter, the kitchen counter was and is the place to be. Of course, it helps that Tim made the counter space large enough to set 7 stools, with the capability to comfortably accommodate 10. I jokingly tell him I feel like I work in a diner sometimes, cooking, serving, cleaning but with the added benefit of being able to participate in the conversations that occur. I say, don’t underestimate the power of a kitchen counter.

That being said, while we eat at the dining room table on Sunday evenings as a family, we use the counter a lot during the week. Sometimes it bothers Tim that we’re not at the table more, but I remind him that the kitchen counter can also be our dining table. During the week, the kids that live at home are here and there, sometimes having to eat early to get a church study, a school concert, worship practice or a meeting and sometimes they’ll eat later because they’re just getting home from school, swim or track practice. They still sit at the counter and we still get to share in their lives. The kids that have left the nest still come in, immediately sit down at the counter and start talking.

The counter is a great communication space, perhaps because it’s not as formal as a dining table. There’s no pressure or expectation to contribute to a conversation, like there might be in a more formal setting. We’ve had our share of great conversations and heart-to-hearts at both the dining table and at the counter, but the counter seems to be the go-to space for most of those these days. When we’re not eating at the dining room table, it’s being used for homework, drawing, board games and the newly introduced card game of Dutch Blitz (the traditional family card game of Pinochle now has some competition).

As the kids get older and busyness becomes more commonplace, my advice is to create as many opportunities for communication and conversation, even if it’s at the kitchen counter and you feel compelled to say, “order up!”

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:6

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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A few weeks ago, my cousin Kelly contacted my sister Jody and wanted to know if everything was okay with me.  Kelly was concerned that I “unfriended” her on Facebook.  I did indeed “unfriend” her, but I did that with all 60 of my Facebook “friends.” I didn’t unfriend everyone for the purpose of an experiment, but now that I think about it, Kelly was the only who asked. Perhaps I wasn’t  as interesting a person as I portrayed myself to be in the eyes of my social media “friends”.

I did let Kelly know that I unfriended all of my Facebook “friends”, not just her. I would never unfriend her in the true sense of friendship. After all, she was my first babysitting customer and flower girl in my wedding. My daughters Emily and Sarah were the junior bridesmaid and flower girl in her wedding. And her mom, our Aunt Carol, is like our older sister. My sister Jenny and I were her first babysitting customers and flower girls in her wedding. So you can see the connection we have and why Kelly might be concerned.

Quite frankly I’d like to ditch Facebook all together, but I post news and events on my church’s page. So now my feed contains only “memories” and whatever I post for work, sad, right? For a short while, I even thought I would try my hand at Instagram and Twitter, both of which were short lived. My life just isn’t that fascinating as to post a photo or thought that I felt compelled to share with my 20 Instagram followers, which apparently in the world of social media, wasn’t many. I actually found it to be meaningless, and I love looking at pictures. Hand me a photo album and I could spend some serious time perusing days gone by. However, for someone who can’t recall what they did yesterday, I didn’t need to add trying to figure out what comment-worthy photo I could take and manipulate to look better with a filter or what words of wisdom I could share that would inspire someone to “love” or “retweet”, to my list of things to do.

Both as a child and an adult, I never felt the need to have a huge number of friends to prove that I was well-liked. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to change what makes me … me, to fit in to what culture says makes a friend a friend. God made me this way and I understand that He doesn’t make mistakes. If you don’t like me, that’s okay too; that doesn’t offend me. Those I consider my close friends know the good, the bad and the ugly side of Janice. And for some strange reason, they still choose to stick around. Maybe there is still hope for this melancholy!

The primary reason I decided to disengage from social media, was the wasted time and narcissism I was seeing from myself and others. What is this preoccupation with self? Why did I feel the need to get my self-worth from social media?  What am I trying to make myself into behind a screen that I’m not like in real life? I began seeing posts on Facebook (my go-to source for awesome families, thought-provoking snippets of Scripture and “stick-it-to-em” political memes), and then seeing the same exact posts on Instagram. Are we so insecure with ourselves that we need to utilize whatever venue available to us to vie for likes, smiley faces, thumbs up and shares? Do we think our Facebook audience is different from our Instagram audience? I got off Instagram almost as quickly as I got on.

I also felt like I was living vicariously through my kids accomplishments, because honestly, I’m kind of a boring person. And I’m okay with that because the rest of my family makes up where I fall short on the excitement scale. Through social media, I could control what the world saw about me, choosing only the best.

As a Christian, I try to be good, but sometimes it seems my failures outweigh the good. But that’s real to me and I would much rather be face-to-face with a few friends and share real life with them, than have hundreds of screen friends and cherry-pick those areas where I come out looking like something I just can’t live up to all for the sake of a thumbs up.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circles are Better than Rows

In 2005 if someone would have told me the significance of being in a Small Group I would first have asked, “What’s a Small Group?” Followed by my protest question, “What do I have to do that I don’t want to do?” Truth be told, I would have asked the second question first. I am an introvert, so being in a small setting with a bunch of folks I didn’t know, where I wouldn’t go unnoticed, didn’t seem very appealing to me. However, my extrovert spouse Tim overruled any excuses I had rolling around in my head for not participating and we began “The Journey.” Thank goodness for the extroverts!

Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what “The Journey” was all about when we started, but what I did discover is that that I enjoyed being in this group of people and surprisingly found myself not wanting to miss a week. So over the course of many month we came to church once a week during the work week and gathered with exploring, new and “mature”  Christians. I will admit, because of where I was (or wasn’t) in my walk, most of what was taught seemed over my head. This was all new … small groups and studying the Bible, but community came out of these classes for me.

So significant was one Spiritual Development class within the Journey that I actually remember where I was sitting in the room. Greg Corral was teaching on the Holy Spirit and I remember thinking during that class, “Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me.” I was participating enough in the other classes, so maybe if I didn’t make eye contact he wouldn’t call on me. Perhaps it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit because just like Greg, it was like he could read my thoughts and wanting to challenge me, proceeded to ask me what I thought the Holy Spirit was. I opened my mouth, but at first nothing came out. I paused a moment and blurted out, “I got nothing.” I was being truthful at the time. I had never really thought about the Holy Spirit. I am happy to report that during that class, I learned a lot about this very important part of the Trinity.  Personally, the Holy Spirit is my conscience. It’s what prompted me to go online and discover a teaching by Andy Stanley on Small Groups called “Preventative Circles”.

Although the Journey is just one of the Small Groups that Crossroads offers, it was a huge part of what was to come for me. I have learned since those first small group classes in 2005 that we were not designed to be alone, but rather in community with one another. If Tim hadn’t “encouraged” me to go through the Journey with him, I never would have had the opportunity to share that experience with my sister and her husband who were also new and going through the classes at the same time. I never would have met my best girlfriend (another sanguine in my life, go figure), someone who would not too long after, become like another sister to me and later yet, re-introduce me to tent camping, something I vowed 27 years ago never to do again. I never would have taken part 2 of the Journey and learned why I am the way I am through the gifting course, taught by someone who I consider my mentor and fellow melancholy sympathizer.

The Journey was not only a catalyst for me but also for my family. When we first came to Crossroads almost 12 years ago, Sunday youth group was meeting at Pastor Pat’s house. Josh, our oldest, didn’t attend that first week, but the second week came and as he started to protest going, that same sanguine from the beginning of this message, “encouraged” him to go; meaning he said, “you’re going.”  Josh would soon make friends that he is still friends with today, making new ones along the way, moving from Youth on to the Young Adults group after graduating college. Emily, our second born, would be welcomed to the Youth Group simply by the Youth leader at the time, Paul Payette, letting her come to the High School Thursday night Bible study as a middle schooler. I recall dropping them off in the front parking lot before she went the first time and her nervously asking Josh, “are you sure he said it was okay”? Well, she was hooked and would be a member of Youth Group through high school. Now graduated from college, she is married and serving in the Youth and Children’s Ministry with her new husband. She has shared that she would like to go back to Mexico as a young adult leader when Pastor Todd takes the youth back on a mission trip. Sarah and Abby are currently coming up through high school and we hope that they can have those same opportunities for friendship and community as their older siblings.

There are stories like this for each of us who have come here, joining a group not knowing what to expect, but coming out on the other side blessed beyond measure.

In this sermon I was listening to, Andy Stanley encourages children, youth, singles, marrieds, “mature” adults, etc. and explains the importance of being part of small groups (or circles) at all stages of life.  He sums it up with this …

“Let’s say that something happens to me, all the staff, and all the buildings simultaneously explode. Let’s make it worst case scenario. There’s no staff. There’s no buildings. And there’s no me. Here’s what would happen. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the following week, thousands and thousands of adults would gather in homes all over the city and pray together, and do Bible study together and take care of whatever family members are left over and the church is going to go on.

Because at the end of the day, circles are better than rows. And from day one, we’ve been committed to creating a culture that’s all about circles and not rows. We are famous for our rows. But the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.”

We don’t have thousands of attenders or multiple churches, but those “circles” at Crossroads are pretty significant to me and my family. So thank you to Pastor Pat for standing in the field at the corner of Jamison and Girdle all those years ago and seeing the vision … the vision of rows, circles and maybe even a future Family Life Center. How exciting would that be?

I Don’t Speak Christianese

I recently finished a book called “You Lost Me” by David Kinnaman, which explores the topic of 18-29 year olds leaving the church. In the last chapter, he lists “50 Ideas to Find a Generation” and the first one hit a nerve.

“When you’re honest with your story, when you share the truth about who you are and what you struggle with, you give others a tremendous gift: the gift of going second. It’s so much harder to go first. None of the rules have been set. The boundaries have not been drawn. The borders of the land have not been clearly marked, especially when it comes to Christian circles. But that’s what we’re called to do, to throw ourselves on the honesty grenade. To share and live the truth. When we do, we give everyone the gift of going second. It’s so much easier to go second. You don’t perform or shine up your mistakes to look like a “real Christian” or a “good Christian”. The monster of pretending to be perfect has already been laid to rest.” – John Acuff

I am a Christian, but I don’t speak what I call “Christianese”; as defined by me, the lingo one may hear in church or in Christian circles. I don’t speak that way because I often find myself thinking about the person coming to church or coming to my home who doesn’t know what it means to “be in the world, not of the world” or to “die to self”. I was that person. I’m thinking about the person who may have walked away from their faith and is coming back or the one who is just exploring. I was that person. I grew up Roman Catholic, married a Lutheran and ended up in a non-denominational church.

Coming from liturgical services, those first services in a non-denominational church back in 2005 were uncomfortable. We stood for what seemed like forever singing (it was actually only 15 minutes) and the teaching was 30 minutes long (but surprisingly life-applicable). However, since it was all foreign to me, my natural response was to try and find things that might not work for us at this church. I remember telling Tim if they said “born again” or “saved” one more time I was leaving. That was almost 12 years ago.

It was like God said, “Eh, not so fast. You didn’t end up here by chance.”

When I started reading the Bible and found this bothersome-to-me “born-again” Scripture in John 3:3 (John is my favorite Gospel, but I don’t know if it’s wrong to have a favorite Gospel?), I was intrigued. The non-stop questions started and Tim happened to be on the receiving end of the barrage. Why had I never heard this Scripture in the Catholic or Lutheran Church? If the Bible is the Word of God, why was this never taught? Why did I not know what it meant? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention? Even though it’s right there in the Bible, this one line of Scripture makes people so uncomfortable that negative connotations are given to non-denominational churches. Interestingly enough if you read 13 verses later in the same chapter, you arrive at one of the most well-known verses used in all denominations, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever should die will not perish, but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

So, on Good Friday 2006, alone in my family room, I asked Jesus into my life. What does that mean? It means I fessed up. That’s a hard thing to do when you grow up thinking you’re always right and everyone else is wrong. It means I acknowledged who Christ is and that I need Him; also a hard thing to do when you grow up thinking you don’t need anyone’s help. I don’t go around telling people that I am born-again or that I’m saved. For me, my heart change, the way I react in situations now, the way I try to live, tells my story. Just the fact that the minute I do or say something wrong and am instantly convicted, tells me that the Holy Spirit is in me; and I am convicted daily! Honestly, things that I wouldn’t have questioned 12-15 years ago, things I would have done or said, I question all the time now. When you discover that you’re a sinner, it’s overwhelming to think about. 

I don’t pretend to be versed in Scripture. I leave that to the theologians and teachers. I don’t have feel-good wisdom and words of encouragement to share. I leave that to my sanguine cohorts. It’s hard trying to keep up and I’m plain tired. After all, I’m still on the journey, stumbling and fumbling, praying that I trip less the older I get. I don’t want to be a hypocrite or a fake Christian, presenting airs of someone who has it all together, because I am flawed. My problems may be different than others, but flawed in God’s eyes, just the same. I’m just thankful He’s there with me on this journey and reminding me that He loves me in spite of my mess.

To Everything There is a Season

There is a lot of reflecting going on for me. Some days I think it’s too soon for this to be happening, but then I remember that I was younger by two years when her dad and I tied the knot over 27 years ago. Having recently located our misplaced-during-the-move home movies and watching our amateur wedding footage and how serious I was, I said to my daughter, “Whatever you do, enjoy the day. The day may not go as planned, but you’ve done your best.”

Following are just some of my experiences and thoughts as a MOB (mother-of-the-bride).

Soon after the engagement the planning started because the happy couple didn’t want a long engagement and picked a date 7 months out. My daughter, being Dave Ramsey conscious of funds (Yes! She was listening when we saw her eyes were rolling!) planned to have the reception under the big tent on our church grounds. So I started calling around for caterers only to discover that there weren’t many that even had that day open because of said 7-month timeline. So out of curiosity, I ended up calling a couple venues that had Sunday dates open, which prompted me to ask if folks really got married on Sundays to which I was told, “all the time.” One of the places I looked at was one that Emily had previously considered but crossed it off her list because of the cost. “Dad will never okay this,” she said when I brought it up. So one day, her father comes home from work and I ask him to have a seat so I can show him something. I ask that he not comment until I get done explaining. Naturally he hesitates because he’s not sure what’s about to happen, but humors me nonetheless as I go through everything. His only question when I finish, “What’s it gonna cost?” I tell him. He pauses, takes a deep breath, sighs and responds with an “okay.” I give him a kiss and a hug, “You’re a good daddy.” Personally, I think he was relieved because the burden would be taken off of us. All we had to do was bring in centerpieces.

Therefore, we needed a florist. Emily did not want real flowers because of the cost, however was a non-negotiable for the MOB and something I told her I would take care of back in her teen years. Calling a couple florists, some were booked, some just never returned my calls, I started to panic. I am not creative and can experience what I call “searing abdominal pains” when I have to be. My good friend tells me to call the florist they used for her daughter’s wedding. I was insistent that they are closed on Sundays. She ignored me and said, “Call her!” So I did and of course the florist would definitely do this on a Sunday. So Emily and I met with her. Nice lady … she went through everything with us and came back with a quote thinking we would take it home with us to think about. However, having heard stories of prices that folks were getting on wedding flowers, I didn’t hesitate and whipped out the checkbook. “How much of a deposit do you need?” In the course of our conversation, I mentioned where I had gotten my wedding flowers 27 years earlier. “That was my dad’s store,” she said. I so love when God gives me confirmation.

The happy couple made the decision, based on their personalities, that they were going to get cupcakes instead of cake. So the search for bakeries ensued. The soon-to-be groom was still in school so I had the privilege of going to taste-test some cupcakes with the bride-to-be.  It was rough, I know. We find a small reasonably priced bakery on the outskirts of the city that does all kinds of fun summer cupcakes. The problem was, choosing which ones. So there will be 5 flavors, one of which will be a groom required fun-fetti. I don’t ask … as long as there is something chocolate, MOB will be happy.

Happiness is shopping to find a MOB dress … NOT!  After countless hours searching online, I dragged myself to the mall. I knew what I didn’t want and that was to not look like me. I am a plain, non-blingy, non-flashy person, the opposite of what is out there for MOB apparel. This was definitely the most painful task to do, the one I prolonged but wanted to get over with at the same time. So I visit some high end stores, try some fancy dresses on and am certain the sales associates can hear my disparaging comments to myself in the dressing room because they came in to ask if everything was okay. “Uh no, I look like a sausage!” I wanted to yell. I am on my third or fourth store, about to give up when I see a dress that I had seen online. It fit … done! I go check out and the sales associate comments on what a nice dress it is. Quite frankly I don’t think it’s any great shakes, but told her I was looking for something for my daughter’s wedding that would hide my midlife midsection. She did a once over on me and saying behind her hand, “You’re shameless girl. Do you see the people walking around this store?” Oh goodness … I am hoping that the next person in line didn’t hear that, but ummmmm “thank you,” I think?

The bridal shower was another task for the MOB. I wanted to have the shower at a venue but the bride insisted it be at the house. She wanted it laid back and casual. So I had to call in reinforcements and her name is “Grandma”. Now my mother and I do not see eye-to-eye on many things like cleaning, frequency of laundry, ironing anything, freezing leftovers, etc. but if you ask her to help … it’s off to the races. Sometimes you have to reign her in so she doesn’t go overboard, like the dessert table at the shower. One of the items that Emily wanted at her shower was a mimosa bar. Those who know me know that I don’t imbibe (not because I don’t believe in it, I just never acquired the taste for the beverage) so the fact that I found myself in a liquor store was quite humorous. I did my research online ahead of time to find out what the best champagne/sparkling wines were to mix with juices so that I wouldn’t sound totally stupid at the store. I enter and immediately panic when I see all of the bottles. My eyes scan the room quickly and I calm down when I locate the section labeled sparkling wines. So a nice lady helped me pick out six sparkling wines and there I went out of the store with a box of bottles hoping no one from church would see me.

After the shower came the invitation mailings. This task was generally uneventful because we had made up the invitation months ago and all we had to do was proof and print them. The bride and groom took care of addressing, stuffing and stamping them, but when the MOB mailed them, that’s when it hit me.

Things became surreal at this point for me.  I’m thinking … “Wait, what’s happening?”  Isn’t she still 5 and watching and singing along to “Pocahontas” or playing with her Polly Pockets?  Isn’t she still 12 trying so hard to be grown up but still being silly? Isn’t she still 16 and causing my gray hairs to appear? She must just be starting college then, right? What do you mean she’s graduated and is now working?

She met a really nice young man at college. The young man asks her father for permission to date her. She falls in love with the young man. The young man asks her father for permission to propose marriage to her. The young man proposes and she says yes.

The nest is getting prickly as the big day draws near and I have learned through my role as a MOB that my need-to-know everything self is often nowhere to be found. In her place is a stand-back and let the chick do what she needs to do to fly. I am still there off in the distance, watching, ready to jump in if needed, but trying so very hard not to interfere.

We are told that as part of wedding ceremony tradition, there is a reason the parents enter and leave the ceremony when they do. They enter ahead in the place of authority, but leave behind the couple in their new role of counsel. Looking back, I think God prepares us for this new role in those tumultuous teenage years, where our kids test us and exhibit signs of independence and we struggle with learning to let go.

Have the last seven months flown by? Yes and now we are a few days away and time keeps marching forward. She tells me earlier this week, that these days are going to go by slowly. I smile and try to keep my composure because for me it’s moving too fast. She won’t know what I’m feeling as her mom until she raises her own children some day and prepares them to begin a new season in their life. Yes, this MOB is crying again.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

Celebrating Mediocrity

Bob Parr: It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.

Helen Parr: It’s a ceremony.

Bob Parr: It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.

I would like to congratulate all of those 8th graders who have made it this far in school. I remember when graduating from high school was quite literally the biggest deal of your school career. As a mom for 25 years, today I was able to witness yet another school-endorsed milestone before that long-anticipated, well-deserved high school graduation.  I’d like to say that today I sat through the last of 4 middle school graduations, but I’m pretty sure it was just child #4. We are two years into a new district and I don’t think our old district did this, but I could be mistaken. I know I’ve I sat through 4 preschool graduations and maybe 4 moving on day ceremonies when my 4th graders moved to 5th grade and then again when my 6th graders moved to 7th grade and quite frankly, was inspired by this last one enough to write about it.

My kids do well academically, but celebrating moving from one grade to another, and in our case, one building to another, a building that is literally connected and on the same campus, has me scratching my head. I guess they are graduating from walking out of one door, down the sidewalk and into another door? Or perhaps I’ve just been hanging around the school system too long, 22 years if you count preschool, and am just tired of the over emphasis on events that really aren’t that awe-inspiring. We now celebrate things that in the past were simply expected by our parents with no need for recognition until high school graduation.

I was that mom who back in the mid-90’s followed child #1’s school bus on the first day of kindergarten because I was sure the bus driver was going to get lost on the way to school. But by child number 4, had become that mom who counted down the days of summer vacation with restrained jubilee and showed up to school for events with sidewalk chalk and cookie dough stuck to my clothes, trying to remember if I had taken a shower or even combed my hair that day.

So kudos to those kids moving from middle school to high school. Did this warrant a mini graduation-like ceremony? My own 8th grader didn’t seem to think so. She warned me it was going to be long and boring and I’m pretty sure she would have preferred to have her fun field day activities that she excitedly talked about the day before as her last day of school instead.

The ceremony started at 9. I arrived at 8:40 thinking I’m way too early only to find that the school had multiple parking attendants directing traffic in a rural district that has less than half of the kids that were in our former suburban district. I am directed to park on the lawn. When I enter the auditorium it immediately became clear that there was no restriction on number of guests. I guess lots of parents arrived as the sun was making it’s appearance to reserve rows of seats for their extended family members and friends for this auspicious occasion. So after being rebuffed when asking if one measly seat was taken, I located a folding chair in an overflow makeshift row in the back of the room, thinking it was a good thing it was just me who came.

The kids were asked to dress up for the occasion and there were very clear instructions sent home for the young ladies to keep their shoulders covered. So my rule-follower daughter, who is always modest, wears a thin-strapped dress with a nice sweater over top.  The music starts and the kids start coming in looking thrilled (NOT) and I notice that most of the girls must not have received that same notice of dress instruction as evidenced by the bare shoulders AND open-backed, very adult looking dresses coming down the aisle. It appears that the problem with authority and obeying rules starts young.

I sat through the recognition of those who maintained the highest GPA.  Usually this is where you make a mental note that come high school graduation these names are going to appear again as valedictorian and salutatorian, right? Well, I couldn’t keep track of all the names that were read because they recognized everyone who maintained the highest GPA all quarters while they were in grade 6 (multiple teams), while in grade 7 (multiple teams) and while in grade 8 (multiple teams). Now I’m smacking myself in the head.  How about recognizing those two or three kids who maintained the highest GPA from grades 6-8 combined? Perhaps I shouldn’t have said to the lady sitting next to me a few minutes earlier that I wasn’t sure how I felt about these ceremonies only to find out that her daughter was one of those recognized for the highest GPA every one of those middle school years.

It’s as if they tried to include as many students as possible, but instead kept reading a lot of the same names over and over and it became so that the clapping was noticeably diminished by the time they read the names for the last quarter of the last team of the last year. It just makes it less special.

I watched the school’s head and vice principal, the superintendent and the guidance counselors sitting on stage and wondered if they recall their middle school years and what they think about all of this hullabaloo … the parents and grandparents coming in with bouquets of flowers, the high powered cameras to capture the “moment”, the parents blocking views and tripping over one another to get videos, the speeches, etc.  I have estimated that by the time child number 4 graduates I will have sat through over 250 band concerts alone … just band concerts, not steel band concerts, not guest artist concerts … just band.  This does not include award ceremonies, moving on day ceremonies, dinners, swim meets, track meets, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number exceeds 400 by the time number 4 walks across the high school stage!

My kids struggle with so many of the things that most kids struggle with at these different stages, but they are grounded and well-rounded. They do well in school, they play sports, they play musical instruments, they sing, they teach, they create, they volunteer, they work.  I like to think they became how they are because my husband and I love them unconditionally (and if you don’t yet have middle schoolers or high schoolers  … wait, your patience will be tested and you will quickly and painfully learn the meaning of unconditional). Those toddler and early school years are but a distant memory of a wonderful, magical time. I am reminded and convicted daily of my failures as a parent, but my kids love and have parents who love the Lord and who teach them what’s really important in life … relationships, not awards (of which they have received plenty), not stuff (also recipients of much).

So today I am most thankful because the last of my children survived the drama, chaos, mean-spiritedness, traumatic, clique-ridden world of middle school, mildly bruised, but basically unscathed. I congratulate my daughter, not with flowers, adoration or accolades, but because she persevered, passed the 8th grade and now has the privilege of continuing her education.

Love you to the moon and back Abby!

Latte Rush Hour to Land Enrichment

My commute to work has gone from a 15-minute drive trying to avoid the line of cars going into the Tim Horton’s drive-thru backing up onto the main road to 6 minutes of trying not to get stuck behind manure trucks, both of the solid and liquid variety. My drive is also now on the milk run as I pass multiple farms, thus explaining the number of manure trucks.  But the views of the landscape are priceless. Even with all the dang-blasted snow and cold our first winter here, it’s beautiful and I am feeling truly blessed.

When we were in our former residence, I was one of “those” people who mowed their lawn in different directions each time, which was at least once a week, sometimes twice when I knew no one would notice.  I would edge, over-seed in the Spring and lay new mulch every two years on top of getting the lawn treated for years. Now I have no lawn and am already thinking about how that will bother me when the snow melts and I am left looking at first mud and then dirt in the excavated area surrounding the house. We still have the final grading and seeding to be done to create an area of lawn, but I am convinced I won’t have anything to mow until late summer. What will I do? If Tim had his choice, he would leave the area immediately surrounding the house in its natural state with minimal lawn. Therefore, I must have a back-up plan for something to take care of outside come Spring. Perhaps a garden? I’m thinking somewhere in this space … minus the snow.

Winter

I miss growing tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce to freeze for the winter months. I miss growing zucchini the size of small baseball bats because I hadn’t checked on them in days. I miss growing green beans and lettuce and getting frustrated that the rabbits got to it before I could harvest any of it. I miss growing butternut squash for Thanksgiving dinner.  I want to try and grow eggplant for the first time even though my husband swore it off after he left home.  I want to try for the umpteenth time to grow peppers that aren’t intentionally “mini” in size.  It might be fun to grown corn again, on a larger scale, but it’s so abundant at roadside stands out this way that it might not be cost-effective. We can stop by a local stand and pick up our 240 ears to freeze easily enough. What I do know is that I would love to start growing a lot more of our own foods now that we have the space to grow it. But we now have more than rabbits being the only wildlife to graze on the produce, as evidenced by the tracks and apples strewn in the woods.

Coming from a dandelion-free zone in our previous home, our lawn care and garden pest treatment options have just beome very limited as we not only have a septic system, but a well. Thank goodness we have natural gas, because propane would have surely meant we arrived in rural USA.  My cousins who grew up on a horse farm told me at our family picnic last summer that I should subscribe to a different kind of magazine.

Grit

My daughter informs me that we’re not out in the “country” because the houses are not far enough apart. I think we are out in the “country” because we’re not down the street from Target or even that annoying Tim Horton’s that causes traffic chaos on a daily basis. We are however down the street from the only general store in town, established in 1855. It’s certainly not Target, but I had been in there at least four times in the first month we lived here. Maybe they will  have the seeds I need to get started on that new garden.  Plus, I know where we can get lots of fertilizer!

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT)