Sunday, August 21, 2016

How We Can Live a Vacation Every Day

My family just got back from vacation. As I've been cherishing new memories, I've been remembering old ones too - like the ones I describe in this post from last summer...I hope you are savoring every sweet last moment of summer!

Everyday my children wanted to go to the beach on vacation. Everyday.  

That meant everyday of rubbing sunscreen thoroughly all over their squirmy bodies. Everyday of lugging beach and sand equipment for what felt like over a mile to our choice spot. Everyday of coming home to a shower to get sand out of every crevice, while I’ll never completely get it out of the car.

But the memories are sweet, I’d remind myself. And the giddy look on their faces would make me want to pause time. And the confidence they’d show in the water through simple swim strokes would make me believe they can do anything.

Keeping that motivation in mind, I sighed a deep breath and got ready for the days’ events one morning. After I got my boys lathered up with sunscreen, they played ball on the deck while I started to apply my own.

“My back is always so tricky - it’s very hard for mommy to get,” I said under my breath, as if to excuse the funny way I was moving to try to get every angle of my fair skin.

Yet at that comment, my older son put his ball down and came over. “Mommy, can I help you put the sunscreen on your back?” he said unprompted.

Surprised, I bent down. I was expecting a hasty, messy application, but I wanted to encourage his thoughtfulness. But my son surprised me. He proceeded to apply sunscreen to my back in thorough, gentle strokes for over five minutes. “I’m doing three coats, Mom, to make sure you don’t get burned.” As I felt his little, sticky hands do their very best, a tear came to my eye.

This is the son who made me a mother. This is the son who inspired the care I give my children every day, the care that felt like a scary privilege with a newborn in my arms to what now often feels like second nature. As I felt his hands dance across my back, I remembered giving them their first kisses as chubby fists.  

This child who I am so used to caring for was now caring for me. He was helping me. He was expressing his love with maturity.  

I was so glad I took the time to receive his offering.  

While the days’ work loomed in my head, I had stumbled upon a moment that made it all worthwhile. And this is usually how it happens. Parenting is a constant juggle between the tasks that must be done and a willingness to let them go and savor the moment. Sometimes we ignite ordinary moments into something special. Or sometimes we just have to allow the space for them to happen.

Why is it so much easier for us to honor those moments on vacation? Is that one reason we look so forward to vacation? 

I loved not living by the clock last week. I loved the freedom that came from the mantra: “We’ll get there when we get there.” Yes, I know daily living can’t always be that way. But one thing I’m sure of is that the work will always be there - even on vacation. Yet the special moments and the heart-felt offerings will not. 

It makes me believe that we all need a little vacation weaved into our everyday. IHandsfree Life, Rachel Macy Stafford says, “This day could either be checked off or it could be lived.” While we made memories to last a lifetime last week, I left eager to invite more unexpected ones that are waiting as gifts - both for the people I love and for me.

Our fond memories include my older son discovering: “Life is better on a boogie board.”

And after burying my shoes last year at the beach (we only recovered one), my younger son stuck to just burying my feet this year. He still had a blast.

You can also find this post at Huff Post Parents.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

4 Characteristics of Winning Teachers

It’s hard to believe that some – like my niece in the Midwest – are preparing to go back to school. As we begin to shift our focus toward a new school year, I am reminded of what often makes this transition so rewarding – the teachers.

Winning teaching is not the scene “Bueller…Bueller…,” as funny as it was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s not the “Wah wah wah” heard from the Peanut’s classroom, though sometimes admittedly bad teaching can sound that way. Instead, my experience is that winning teaching comes from teachers who often share these four characteristics: 

1. They teach because they care. When I think about the teachers who most impacted me, a common thread is that they cared. They cared enough to invest in me, share who they were and relate to me, and their passion in turn inspired me. It didn’t matter how accomplished the teacher was or the popularity of their subject matter – a teacher who cared could even get me interested in the dry recitation of history.

2. They share what makes them unique – or even quirky. I still remember a middle school head who was somehow enamored with wombats. She had the sign “Wombat Crossing” outside of her door. Even on a student’s worst day, coming to her office would bring a smile. Teachers who elicit a smile when students think of them, who intrigue them in some way, are making school a more interesting and inviting place.

3. They are good observers. When I was little, I never imagined doing what I do now. I can pinpoint a time when a youth minister noticed a gift for ministry in me and affirmed it. It was a skill I didn’t realize I had, and one that I continue to use to this day. Teachers not only have a breath of knowledge to pass along to their students, but they have life wisdom too. When they take the time to observe their students, they can become effective “archeologists” in affirming and encouraging their future trajectories.

4. They empower their students. Teachers often do a lot of talking; after all, their primary duty is to teach. But winning teachers go a step further and empower students to use their own voice or talents. I remember an upper school English teacher naming me as the editor for our school’s literary and arts magazine. I had not asked for the role nor pegged myself as the literary type. Fast forward years later, and writing is like the air I breathe. I marvel at her ability to perceive my readiness and give me a forum.

The ability to partner with winning teachers is nothing short of a gift for students – or their parents. As a parent, one of my greatest goals is to help my children discover and nurture their God-given abilities. Parental effort combined with teaching can solidify an arc of meaning and accomplishment for children that would otherwise be impossible…Ferris excluded, of course.

Please take a moment to find my post here on the TODAY Parenting Team page and click "VOTE UP" to show your support! The more votes, the longer longevity on the site. Thank you!

I hope you have been enjoying your summer! I took a blogging break this past month as I've been enjoying some family time and settling into my new ministry position. I have exciting things in store for you this fall, including TV programming on faith and parenting! I can't wait to share more...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

New Position, and Joseph's Powerful Lesson on Forgiveness

Happy summer! I'm excited to announce that I've accepted a new position as Parish Associate! Being a Parish Associate allows me to join a church as a Presbyterian minister and exercise my gifts within the congregation. Having previously served another church in that role, my family and I will now be a part of Central Presbyterian Church. It's a wonderful opportunity that I look forward to sharing with you!

This past week, I helped out for a morning at our preschool Vacation Bible School. The children were learning the story of Joseph in the Bible (which starts at Genesis 37). If you ask any child who attended, their favorite thing about VBS wasn't the snack, games, or adorable songs - it was seeing Joseph in action! One day they visited him in jail, and the next they journeyed to the palace. 

Joseph striking an Egyptian pose

As I sat hearing Joseph's story (after playing a palace donkey that is - clearly, I didn't know what I had signed up for!), I was struck by Joseph's discussion of forgiveness. He talked about being in a position to help his starving family, a family who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy many years before. Rather than holding a grudge, he relished this moment that his family could be reunited. 

To the children, this was a fun story with an uplifting finish - it ended in a palace that was filled with abundance, celebration, and forgiveness. But as an adult listening, I heard the story on a different level. Why is it that family can sometimes be the most rewarding but also the most challenging part of our lives? And why does God's definition of restoration sometimes have to be so messy?

No doubt Joseph was aware that he had grown at the hand of God even through difficulty. After all, he had been sold into slavery and later thrown into jail after being falsely accused. But no doubt Joseph realized that his true freedom didn't come when he was released from jail and triumphantly elevated to the role of palace official; it came later when he forgave.

I have an inkling that God wants to take each of us into the palace too. Forgiving any lingering pain is the first step toward our own abundance and new beginning. The power of the Christian message is this provision as God leads us out of whatever has enchained us. I can think of no better time than the summer to consider this principle - as the sun is shining, may the power of forgiveness warm us from the inside out!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Want to Meet MY Mom? Watch Our #TalkToMe Video!

Mom and Me

When the Huffington Post told me they're building a movement about sparking conversations between parents and children, I wanted to be a part of it! In this #TalkToMe video, I'm honored to sit down with my Mom for five minutes of candid conversation. (Please ignore the distant sound of neighborhood sawing in the background - hey, we're keeping it real.) We talk about inadvertent parenting outcomes, intentional goals, and faith. To watch, simply click here or scroll down to the bottom of my blog homepage. I'm excited to share this meaningful moment of ours with you!

You can also find this entry over at Huff Post here. Check my Twitter feed to see that Arianna Huffington actually tweeted this interview! Yay!

TODAY Video Clip