Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Live a good story...

This past year has been probably one of the most powerful of my life. I'm sure part of the impact of 2017 came from the events of 2016 but past that, it was a year of personal and spiritual growth. For me, 2017 was marked by significant life intersections. 

This last month, our church has been taking about the idea of story. In particular the idea to "own your story." I don't think I could have ended the year with a more powerful concept. I have debated what I want to say to own my story and honestly even debated if it was worth it. I decided that it is important to be able to articulate your personal story so that you can see the progression of the storyline. I've been on the Earth for 40 years now (probably about perfect time for a major self-reflection, right?) and looking at my life, I can see the storyline rise and fall, creating overall a good story. However, it's sometimes easy to forget you have a good story because the falls of the storyline are deep and wide. That's why it's good to own your story, so you remember it all; not just the downs.

A lot of people see me as an optimistic person who is always smiling (or at least that's what they tell me). Ultimately, I am optimistic, but it's not because life has always been easy or pleasant. My story is marked with some of the same sad and ugly spots that many others share. I have experienced bullying, insecurity, anxiety, sexual assault, heartbreak, family issues, abandonment, disappointment. I moved a lot as a kid and I didn't always make friends easily. I was a highly insecure and anxious child. I wanted to fix everyone's problems and usually couldn't so I was frequently disappointed in myself. For many years we didn't have a lot and sometimes it was really, really tight. I had have a small collection of failed engagements, and for a while felt like I was pretty much just a big joke, even to my friends. I have had to watch too many people I care about lose loved ones, and too many people I care about struggle with their own happiness. 

However, these less-than-awesome experiences are not the whole of my story. Throughout the struggle, especially my childhood years, I had a mother who loved me dearly and taught me that God is my foundation. She taught me that life is not fair, but that you can't give up. I learned that we don't have to be defined by any circumstance or even series of circumstances. Through pain and heartache and insecurity and anxiety, I have had Christ's love. I have walked through various stages of my faith and struggled at times with questions like "why would you let this happen," but I'm at a place now where I know that the pain of this world is not what God ever intended. I know that I am loved and cherished, and that when I allow God to work in my heart, I am able to overcome. I can find joy, even when I am sad because I know Love. 

This brings me to 2016. The year 2016 was not my favorite. I lost an aunt, a young neighborhood friend, my cousin's beautiful boy Radley, experienced some heartache related to extended family issues, and struggled with feelings of belonging. By the end of the year I was wiped emotionally. I didn't feel my heart could give any more, but I still wanted to be there for my family, my kids, my friends, my community. I was trying to do it all myself and find my way out of my personal sadness by being there for others.

January 1st happened to fall on a Sunday in 2017, so we went to church - a new one we were just visiting - and they had a great message focused on finding your word for the year. The idea is that rather than a new year's resolution, you pray for God to put a word on your heart that will guide you for the year. A word popped into my mind immediately but I dismissed it. I didn't write my word that took a few days for me to get comfortable with it, but eventually, I wrote down leadership on my little magnet. 

I struggled with it at first because I felt like it was arrogant and honestly I didn't want to lead anyone. Then, as the word wouldn't leave my mind, I starting thinking maybe God was going to give me some kind of opportunity to lead a Bible study in my neighborhood or provide some opportunity at my kid's school, so I wrote it down and moved on. Then, like just about everything in our house, the magnet got misplaced and I didn't think about it much again...till later. 

Somewhere during the Spring months, I was asked to serve as a Service Unit Director for our area Girl Scouts. I accepted and have definitely enjoyed the journey, even though I'm still figuring a lot of it out. :) At the start of Summer, I found out about a full-time position at the University were I have been adjuncting and ultimately decided to apply for it. It was a professor of leadership - continuing and building the leadership series that is part of the general education program for the institution. During the interview process, I was sorting through some papers and came across the magnet with my word: leadership. It made me pause and get a little excited. I didn't necessarily take it as a sign that I was gonna get the job (remember the insecurity issues above), but I did take note of the intersection of the word God placed on my heart and what had been taking place in my life. 

I end up getting the job and WOW, what a whirl-wind it has been. I love getting to connect with students on a regular basis and really get to know them as individuals. As an adjunct, you don't have as many opportunities to connect with students since you only see them for a few hours a week. But when you are on campus full-time, you run into students often and they pop in your office to visit. You get to know them personally and it is a wonderful gift. While like any job, it can be taxing at times, students have a way of filling your bucket, even when they don't realize it. I was getting the recharge I had been lacking the year prior.

One of the big concepts I am trying to teach through these leadership courses is that leadership happens in many different settings (big L and little l moments) and that being a leader, often means being open to following. My biggest lesson through the year was actually related to followership. What I learned was that when I tried to lead everything and control things, even under the guise of helping others, I was not actually leading well because I was frustrated and burning out. However, as I let go and follow Christ's leading, I have been able to step into different leadership opportunities (some L and some l) with more joy, more love, and more energy. By following, I am a better leader. 

The Husband and I have laughed at all the moments this year where a sermon has intersected with something we have been talking about. One intersection was the story concept. We listened to Donald Miller's A Thousand Miles in a Million Years over the summer and really jumped on board with the idea of living a good story. The Husband actually read this a while ago it has become his personal motto. I loved it and started looking for ways to incorporate it into my freshmen course. Then, the last month of the year, the sermon series is about your story. 

Owning my story allows me the opportunity to reflect and, gives me the opportunity as a Christian,  to see how my story intersects with the story God is writing. God is telling His story through humanity and the free will we have been granted. God knows one cannot force love so He gave us free will. Being given free will means we have the freedom to choose to Love. To understand Love. To give Love. To receive Love. Free will also give us the freedom to turn away from Love. Humanity often chooses to turn from Love, and thereby send ripple affects throughout the world of pain, sadness, hate that often carry on for generations. It is not that God wants these things. We create them. Using our free will to find Love gives us power to overcome the ugly of this world, even if we are not always protected from it.  

2017 felt good. It seemed to come full circle for me. I am going into 2018 feeling stronger and happier. I can see the connections and intersections of God's story with mine and it has recharged me. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Radley Moon

Yesterday marked a year that we have been without sweet Radley Moon. My cousin's child was such a beautiful boy with a joyous heart that touched all who knew him. I struggled all day trying to gather my thoughts and still don't really have a grasp.

When Radley was born, my daughter and I went up to the hospital to meet him. He was so sweet and I loved getting to see the instant bond my daughter had with him. A few months later my son was born. Atticus and Radley were the most precious babies together. I called them The Mockingbird Boys as they were both named for characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. I am so grateful that our families lived close enough to get to spend time together regularly and for a about a year and a half, life was perfect.

Then we got the news that Radley had leukemia. I was actually supposed to babysit him the day they found out. I remember waiting for them to come to the house and then worrying when I couldn't reach them. Life changed forever that day.

Over the next year and a half, we did not get to see Radley much. Between his limitations from treatments and my kiddos general childhood exposures, getting time to actually visit was few and far between. Technology allowed us (and many others) to keep up with Radley and see how he was doing. I was always amazed at how smart he was and loved to hear his sweet voice. The few times we did get to see him were incredibly precious, even more so now.

Obviously, any emotions I have pale in comparison to what his parents have gone through and what they experienced yesterday. I learned that my cousin is one of the strongest women I have ever known. I know she had serious ups and downs, as would be expected, but she always put Radley's needs first and reflected on each win and set back with a grace I could only hope to have.

This is not the first person I loved that I have lost but that didn't lessen the pain. My grief patterns don't follow typical stereotypes. I don't cry a lot and often my practical side takes over, rationalizing situations. It's taken me years to not feel awkward about that and just accept it's who I am. This time has been no different. Radley's death was tragic and my heart broke. I cried and then cried again when I had to tell my daughter. Then the tears stopped. Even yesterday, although my heart was sad and I had a melancholy feel about the day, I was not able to cry - my mind just kept going back to Radley and his parents.

I debated how to honor Radley. I sent forever flowers (made from wood so they will never die) to his parents and talked with my little family about what we should do here. We decided to buy a special bush and plant it in our yard. I think we will do this each year as we remember the wonderful child that he was and the happiness he brought into our lives. We will also be donating to childhood cancer research in his name each year.

I believe that God never had plans for children to die of cancer (or any of the other horrible things that happen in this world). Our world has made choices throughout time that create tragedies for others - often those that didn't deserve it. It doesn't make it easier to understand or experience, but for me, my faith in God is my refuge of peace. I trust in His love, grace, and mercy to carry me through the dark moments of this life. My prayer is that very soon we WILL find cures for all the different types of cancer, and other parents and families will not have to experience this kind of pain.

Radley Moon McChristian - you were a beautiful light that is missed greatly. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Kids and friendships...

I shared this link about social engineering last year on Facebook. I think it's important enough to share again. Like I said last year (and this author mentions as well), I don't feel everything has to be an everybody in event. But there is a difference in having a core group and being exclusive.

Growing up, I moved a lot...10 school moves in K-12. Each move meant breaking into new social groups. It was not always easy. I was a small and very quiet child. I was easily bullied and/or picked on because I struggled with some self-confidence issues. My family was not wealthy - actually there were times that were quite rough and I couldn't do a lot of things others could. These kinds of things don't make it easy to find a core group - I didn't actually find that group till college. I could have easily been the kid sitting by themselves...and at different points I was. However, ultimately I was fortunate because there was almost always at least 1 kid that would reach out and bring me into the circle. These were thoughtful souls who saw past their immediate self and made life better for others. Shocker wasn't the parents who stepped in to make sure I was included. It was individual kids being kind.

That is not to say that parents were not involved (well maybe some weren't), but particularly as small children, it really was kid-to-kid interactions, not parent-lead. For better or worse, this changed as I got older. I remember some junior high moments (small school experience) where parents definitely made sure everyone was at least invited. But, I also remember some parents who were very blatantly exclusive. I have no problem with parents having only a few people to their home rather than a full class, but I remember a few specific times where parents would loudly talk about plans at pick up, in front of kids who were not invited. That is just insensitive and honestly rude.

J has friends...some closer than others. That's reality. It's okay for kids to learn the difference between a close friend and a friend. My prayer and hope is that my kids will find a core group that is supportive and loving, but that that very same group will be open and welcoming to others. I think parent involvement sometimes needs to happen. Children are still learning how to navigate life. Friendships are part of that and understanding how to act with our friends in positive ways, doesn't always come naturally. I try very hard to not solve all her problems for her, but I don't have any issue with talking about what is happening and helping her find solutions. Sometimes that means giving suggestions. Sometimes that is just sitting quietly while she processes what she should do. She is very tender-hearted about people getting along and she has shared with me how hard it is for her to be in the middle of friend arguments. She wants everyone to get along and feels some weird pressure to help make that happen. When that doesn't go well, she gets stressed about it and feels like she didn't do enough to help - so very me. We're both working on this concept. To let her navigate all that on her own is not fair. However, if I step in all the time and just take care of it for her, that won't help either.

This weekend, I let her have a "late-over". If you haven't heard of this idea, it's like a sleepover, except everyone goes home at the end of the evening. This was kind of an experiment and luckily it went well. For many reasons, most logistical, I limited her count. That meant some of her friends, whom she really does love, wouldn't get invited. That was hard for me to do, but there was no way I was having 9-10 girls in my house for 5-6 hours - not enough space, food, or sanity. It was hard for her to know she wouldn't get to invited all her friends. So what I did was tell my daughter that she didn't need to be broadcasting the event at school. I know they still discussed it, at times probably within ear shot of their friends who weren't invited, but I hope that was very limited. I reminded her several times that it wasn't a secret so she didn't have to hide it, but it wouldn't be very nice to talk about all the fun they were going to have while someone who wasn't going was listening. I hope she listened. I know she wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but like pretty much any kid, she gets excited and doesn't always think about who might be around to hear things.

All this is to say, there is sometimes a fine line between being inclusive and exclusive. I think talking realistically with kids about these issues is important. I have told my daughter that she will not get invited to everything in life and that is okay. She is reaching an age where she is able to pick her own friends instead of just playing with her parents' friends. There are good things about that, as well as many challenges. My prayer is that both of my kids remain open-hearted and are conscious of others. That they will be aware of others who may need to feel included and then actually make attempts to include them. I also pray they each have a best friend or two that can be "their person" because it makes like just that much better to have someone who gets you.

Life is sticky, but awesome. Here's hoping we are raising kind, happy, interesting people who will make it even more awesome. :)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop taking it personal

These past few weeks I have been learning to let it go.  Not the Frozen-stays-in-your-mind-for-3-days-"Let It Go" but for real let-it-go lessons.  It is so easy to take the comments (or actions) that people make toward you, about you, about your kids, about your beliefs, etc., personally and I have been extremely guilty of doing just that too many times.

Although it may sting a little when people say things - like constantly comparing all the good things in my children to The Husband and his side of the family, while only contributing the negatives to me - it does absolutely NO good for me to take those comments to heart.  (Yes, this is one of the lessons I've been dealing with and still working on the letting-it-go...hoping that this post will help me release from those frustrations).

The main reason I have been thinking about this issue is from watching and listening to various people I have been around recently.  I am noticing how many of us get caught up in personal feelings when the issue really might not have anything to do with us at all.  Even comments things that technically do relate to your/my personal life aren't usually worth getting upset about because most of the time the comment that is driving you crazy really just stems from some situation in that other person's world.

Think for a minute about the last week.  How many times did you take something personal?  Were those things actually personal attacks or did you just have some knee-jerk reaction to it?  I know for me, the knee-jerk reactions are common.  Now, I am good at masking my hurt/frustration/irritation/whatever most of the time but I allow too many comments or situations to fester under my skin and irk me.  What good is that doing?  Absolutely no good whatsoever.

"Well, duh" you say.  I agree. Duh. It's just that sometimes I need a little verbalization and validation to get my mind to fully LET GO so I share this with whomever may be reading.  Lucky you. So, here I sit, now released and ready to play some LEGOs with The Wee One.  Life is good.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Revisited

As I sit here in the couch with my 5.5 year old, I am reminded of when my daughter was this age.  On Valentine's Day that year, she was officially 5 months old.  We decided we would go out as a family and celebrate.  We made our reservations and got dressed up and out we went.  Keep in mind we were living in a small Oklahoma town at this point.

As happens with many Valentine's plans, things didn't go as expected.  After an hour and a half delay in our reservations, we finally got our food around 10 o'clock that night.  The wee one had done well the entire time but as you can imagine, she was a little put out by this point.  I was holding her trying to get her to calm down enough so I could eat my very awaited meal when an older, grandmotherly woman came over and literally swept her out of my arms.  This lady was nice and bounced the wee one a couple of times and then...


Yes, she literally walked right out of the room and we couldn't see her.  As Brent sprinted after her, I had visions of this woman running down the road with my child taking her God knows where.  Brent found her in the other room just bouncing the wee one.  She was very calm and nice and just said she wanted to give us time to eat a quiet meal.  Apparently, she was the owner's mother and she was just exhibiting some old-school, small-town kindness; however...WHAT THE HELL?!?!

Looking back, I am able to laugh a little.  That night my heart raced.  Between that experience and one a few years back where we spent more time in traffic than we did at dinner, we've since decided that Valentine's Day is best celebrated on an alternate day if we are planning to "go out".  Otherwise, we'll just chill at the house and enjoy our family's love.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!  I hope you know how loved you are and are able to share that love with another.