Saturday, October 27, 2012

we serve

it's friday night and i'm half asleep. laptop on knees, fire in the hearth and my feet snug in fur boots.  (i live in minnesota now, i.e., a girl's gotta do, what a girl's gotta do). so,if this piece begins to ramble or the words tilt to one side or another, just know the writer is officially gone -- snoring like a large man on the sofa. it has been that kind of week.

neither snow, nor rain, nor sleet...

well, we had all of that yesterday. all at once, in fact. i guess it's what's called a "wintery-mix."  and it was just in time for my first field trip with connor's fourth grade class from chapel hill academy.  the 4th graders, teachers and some chaperone parents walked from the school building to a place called Feed My Starving Children.  FMSC has locations all over the united states and one happens to be less than two miles from our school. it is a favorite service project where the kids work together to assemble bags of food for other children all over the world.  more on that in a moment.

anyway, there we were in this wild wintery-mix -- some great cacophony of mittens, hats, rain boots, umbrellas and winter parkas. a parade of color walking the wet streets of chanhassen. in my past few months here, i have learned that minnesotans pride themselves on good gear...on their absolute preparedness.  i mean it, i have heard more helpful hints and secrets of survival in the past 90 days than in my entire life (all of which i am quite thankful for and taking careful note of). but i am pretty much to the point of packing up my fancy high heeled shoes and just chucking them all in the first snowbank i see.  this is not high-heeled country, my friends. here in the northland, we go for form and function.  practicality and preparedness. sensibility and utility -- ubetcha!  it is a serious business...a matter of survival.  not that these minnesotans don't look cute doing it...oh no...they can and they do.  winter wear has taken on a whole new level of forward fashion since my own school days of wet, wool mittens and saggy, thin thermal underwear.

but yesterday on our way to FMSC, i simply had to laugh at the crazy clothing combos we all came up with.  there was just no way to battle that kind of weather.  umbrellas were yanked inside out by the whipping wind, tennis-shoed children were sloshing through puddles, snowflakes were dancing across hoods and hats and a few bare heads.  it was a sight to behold. at one point, when we seemed to pause a second too long in the middle of our mile, i thought to myself, "oh, for heavens sake, let's hurry these freezing children so we can feed my starving children!"  but truly, it was fun.  the kids laughed and skipped and shouted.  the group of moms i walked with did their own share of laughing and joking as well.  we were all about speed, but all of it, even the snowflakes and puddles, was fun.

but this piece isn't about the weather.  and it's really not about those freezing children either.  once we were set in the warehouse with our hairnets and our work stations, the real fun began.  these amazing 4th graders were all about the business of working hard to create incredible bags of  super food. they worked without let up.  no one complained.  each student had a specific job and they carried it out with nothing short of elementary school passion -- singing, dancing and cheering each other on. the music played loud the energy played louder. bag after bag.  box after box. these kids were rocking it big time. 

they were serving. they were doing something for someone in need and it was a beautiful thing.

at the end of our two hours, the team leader announced we had packed 51 boxes.  each box held 216 packages of food ...that's 11,016 meals. he then divided it by 365 days in a year and came up with the number 30.  30 children would be fed by what these kids had accomplished in one small afternoon of work. the CHA 4th graders cheered and clapped in enthusiasm. this felt good.  this felt great. the leader gathered us all together in the back of the warehouse to pray over the large crates of food which would be shipped out to haiti at week's end.  i wonder if i'll ever be able to take part in something like this and not feel the urge to weep. i could barely hold back the tears as we watched a video before leaving.  story after story, of children and families and villages touched by these bags of food. by this manna. i thought of the excess oatmeal i had pitched this very morning and of the untouched sandwich i found last night while emptying out one of my kids' lunch bags...

that was thursday.  

on friday, it was another day of service.  somehow, completely unbeknownst to me, i had scheduled myself the very next day at the high school for their service project, as well.  honestly, i wasn't trying to win the volunteer-mother-of-the-year award.  the truth is, i scheduled them back to back by accident.  probably because i am terrible at consulting my calendar.  calendar?  what calendar?

so friday morning i had the chance to accompany emily's junior discipleship group on their fall service project.  the snowflakes and rain were gone, but the cold had settled in deep and we were scheduled to spend the entire day outside raking leaves.  i woke friday morning again, wondering just what clothing combination to put on for such an event -- you'll be happy to know, i ruled out the high heels immediately.  (see... minnesota is definitely rubbing off on me).  i'm going to be perfectly honest here:  even though i had been excited earlier in the week about going on this project, by the time friday morning came, i had kind of lost my steam.  i had been gone all day wednesday, all day thursday (feed my starving children) and by friday, i kind of wanted to stay put and clean my own in my own yard...bake something for my own (non) starving children.  completely lame, i know.

but, i pulled up my practical boot straps (literally) and we raced out of the house for a third day in a row (yes, i realize some of you do this every day -- and, by the way, i'm [always] absolutely amazed).  but because i am terrible at rushing out of the house early in the morning with all these children in tow, we left breakfast dishes on the table and pajamas in the kitchen (long story) and probably the back door wide open.  but off we went.  as i backed down the driveway the car thermometer read 35 degrees.

after dropping the younger ones at their various schools, i arrived late to the high school.  i arrived late, but just in time to hear their principal, dan beckering, address the student body with these words, "if we consider ourselves followers of Jesus, then we will serve like He served.  we cannot follow Him and not serve others."  wow.  those words punched right through me.  that's it.  that's exactly it.  we are called to serve others.  it is intrinsically connected to our following Jesus.  not that we do it perfectly.  not that we always want to do it.  but, nonetheless, it is our calling as Christians.  "if you love me, feed my sheep." (john 21:17)  now, i am not at all suggesting our good works secure our position in His kingdom, but God's word is crystal clear: "feed my sheep" [people]..."feed my sheep!"

and there i was again, barely thawed from thursday, but back out in the cold on another day of service.  this time watching 6 girls and their sweet leader, candace, on the driveway of someone in need.  mr. workman hobbled painfully on arthritic knees and showed us around his leaf-covered yard.  "i used to do this all myself," he mentioned at least three times.  before beginning, we gathered with him and each girl prayed out loud asking for God's blessing on our project, on our day, and on mr. workman's life.  i'm not sure mr. workman is a believer, but i know today he was blessed by these girls who believe -- these girls who follow Christ.

from there we went to 89 year old mrs. keefer's yard.  more leaves, more raking, more cold.  the girls worked and worked and the leaves slowly disappeared. another yard down.  another person served. we all agreed, though our shoulders and arms ached,  it felt good. really good.

and finally, with some time left over, we headed to one of our own dear one's yards.  in an earlier post or two, i've mentioned my minnesota friend, heidi.  heidi, who has held this past year the sharp grief of losing her oldest son, josh. at the end of our day, we showed up at her house with our rakes and our eagerness.  we stood in her foyer and i watched my friend at a loss for words.  perhaps a little overwhelmed at the willingness of these girls ready to work.  perhaps a little overwhelmed to know she is loved completely. i don't know, but i do know it was a tender moment praying together just inside her front door.  these acts of service can change much more than the state of a backyard...they can change these young girls who serve...they can change those who are served...they can change me.  

it is impossible to be part of something like this and not (again) feel the urge to weep.  as i blew out the leaves from heidi's flower beds and lawn, i wiped away my own tears.  pretending it was the cold, but knowing better.  i wanted to blow off and rake out the heartache from this home.  if only we could put the pain of loss into neat little piles like these leaves and cart it all far, far away. i texted heidi those thoughts later in the day. heidi gets this service thing.  it is what she, and her family, do naturally themselves.  sometimes we serve and sometimes we are served.  there's blessing both ways. 

we can't be followers of Christ and not serve others.  we just can't. believe me, i've tried. in fact, just lately i've kind of buried my head in the messiness of our move and i've attended to my own little wounds.  curled up somedays on the couch and licking my own small cuts and bumps. kind of like our cat, charlie. (my kids will think it incredibly strange that i just compared myself to the cat, but i'm going to leave it, because i am really tired and right now that seems sort of funny).  but, seriously, that's kind of how it's been since the big move to minnesota.

and then, bam!  i (accidentally) sign up to serve on two days, back to back.  i walk through the freezing slush, i wear sensible boots and (oh-my-heavens!) a hairnet, i hold a splintery rake under a winter's bleak sky. i am sore.  i use muscles i haven't touched in a while. serving muscles.  muscles which serve. muscles which have been curled up on the couch (like the cat).  

we can't be followers of Christ and not serve others.

it's friday night (almost saturday now)...the fire dwindles, the woman has clearly rambled, the boots, still fabulous, and the necessary lesson learned.

as followers of Christ.  we serve. 

"for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, 
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  ~ mark 10:45

(and, no, you will NOT see a picture of me in a hairnet!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

MEA at the MOA

we shouldn't have gone.  that's it in a nutshell.  we attempted something we just shouldn't have tried. as an experienced mother of five, i should have realized that going to MOA on MEA weekend would spell disaster for this MOM.  but we went anyway.  after all, we have been in minneapolis for over 81 days and i thought it was high time to explore this particular slice of midwestern americana.  i thought with a day off of school this was the perfect chance to visit the mega mall of minneapolis -- the mall of america -- i thought wrong.

MEA stands for minnesota education association. and MEA break is the time when teachers all over the state attend enrichment conferences and their students with a long weekend available, visit things like their grandmothers or their cabins or, in our case, the mall.

this year, i am pretty certain there was no grandma in the state of minnesota who got a visit from her grandchildren and all the cabins in this part of the country must have been left empty.  how do i know this? i know this because every single person in minnesota was at the mall of america on friday afternoon.  i am sure of it.  i mean absolutely every student and their entire family entourage was walking the 4, 200,000 square feet of this behemoth building of retail wonder.

a mall with 530 stores and 40 million visitors annually is daunting on an average day.  but friday it was downright nightmarish.  it took me three times circling the structure to figure out how to get into the parking area.  and the phrase "parking area" is rather ridiculous at that.  there was no parking area.  there was no parking.  we ended up stalking a couple of teenaged boys in their mom's silver mini van and waiting for them to pull out of a space.  with every single parking spot full, i should have known better than to attempt this madness with four children and a stroller.  but we had traveled over several highways.  we had sat in traffic.  i had coerced the oldest boy into coming along.  and, most of all,  we are still viewing our time here in minnesota as a grand adventure.  this was just another great chapter in our family's grand adventure, right?  


we stood in this minnesota mecca of shopping.  every store imaginable at our fingertips.  roller coasters and wild rides, exciting and loud,  filling the center of it all.  but it wasn't enough. the oldest boy didn't want to be there.  so he was miserable.  oldest girl did want to come, but with too much homework and a volleyball tournament this weekend, was forced to stay home and work.  she was miserable.   tiny girl was tired. sort of miserable.  and the middle two had decided that they weren't in the mood to get along on this day, thus, miserable too.  our MEA day was turning quickly into a Miserable Embarrassing Adventure.  after some grumbling about what we'd do and some ugly sibling bickering while we were doing it, this mom had had enough and decided it was time for the mcnatt family to go MIA at MOA.  in other words, we left.  after a snippy exchange between two of them, i announced, "okay, that's it, kids, it's time to go home."  we had driven almost an hour (with traffic) and spent less than 30 minutes in this mall of mega misery.

i didn't say much.  they knew i wasn't happy with them though.  it was a quiet ride home.  you know the type,  when everyone just feels kind of slouchy about what has unfortunately taken place.  that was us as we traveled back on the highway and headed west for home.  at one point, emily called me and asked how things were going.  "well, we are actually on our way home," i told her.  "what? you can't be.  you must have just gotten there."  i gave her a quick summary of the bickering and grumbling and the general ugliness and told her we would see her soon.

lousy day, huh?  you must be wondering why in the world i am sharing such a non-stellar mcnatt moment. i would be wondering that too. except this...

except that when we got home and walked into the house my oldest daughter was waiting for us -- standing there with hands on her teenage hips and severe expression on her face.  as the younger four wandered sheepishly into the house, older sister unleashed upon them.  "i cannot believe you guys acted like that for mom!" she began.  "this is ridiculous. don't you know mom was trying to plan something fun for your day off? don't you know she works hard to make things good for us?" she continued on and on, ranting and raving like a seasoned woman of wrath. 

i pretended to be busy with my purse and a few papers on the counter.  

"all of you, right now, in the family room!" emily ordered.  "we are having a sibling meeting and we are getting some things straight here!"  they kind of stared at her, unmoving, but mouths open. "NOW!" she commanded with a quivering finger of rage pointed in the direction of the other room.

all five of them filed out.  i stayed in the kitchen wiping at a sticky spot on the stove and sort of smiling.  this was great.  without even asking i had reinforcement.  the calvary had come.  the closer had shown up.  someone else was going to give the much needed lecture and highlight the much needed lesson.  i poured myself a glass of tea and sat kind of listening, but mostly loving what was taking place in the next room.  it was nice to have someone else shoulder this burden for just a moment.  and, i have to be honest with you, it was nice watching my oldest girl step up to the plate and hit a home run helping out her mama.  it isn't her job to discipline her siblings...heavens no.  we never expect that.  but this kind of peer interaction was priceless -- her sibling sense of righteous anger, absolutely appropriate.

in the midst of this meeting, she pulled out a bible verse which she has had taped to the dashboard of her car recently.  with a passion nothing short of fire and brimstone, she read it out loud to her two brothers and two sisters.  "don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. and the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 timothy 2:23-26).  my girl was not messing around.  

when they were finished talking about the error of their attitudes, i heard them closing in prayer.  i'm not sure if one prayed or several of them prayed.  i couldn't hear that well and i didn't want to go closer and dare interrupt the beautiful thing happening in our family room.  instead i just bowed my own head and thanked God for this little exchange unfolding in the room down the hall.  

a few minutes later, finished and smiling, they came back into the kitchen.  "we're sorry, mom" they all kind of said at once and then rockstar emily pulled us all close and announced, "group hug everyone!"  and we did.  we hugged and i kissed them all on the tops of their repentant heads and we healed.  just like that.  we healed from our day of Miserable Embarrassing Adventure. we healed from our MEA day.

before i end this piece though, i have to tell you, it doesn't always go like this.  there isn't always an older sister waiting to restore order.  sometimes we have ugly moments and we head to our own corners and sulk and pout and continue to feel rotten.  we don't fix.  we don't repair.  somedays we have awful attitudes and we just don't address them.  we choose to ignore and  hide away pretending this is just the way it goes in the world of family. we forget about forgiveness.

but today was different.  a milestone.  a benchmark.  an ugly moment turned beautiful and a day worth sharing.

within minutes they all scattered to the far parts of our house and yard.  i stayed in the kitchen, still sipping my tea.  still smiling.

MEA day, indeed.  Mama Encouraged (once) Again day.  thank you,  emily.  thank you, Lord.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

best practices (kind of)...

am i the only woman in america who does strange and desperate things when we are due at the dentist for our six month cleaning? we had appointments for everyone later that day and i did what any madcap mother would do: i brought floss in the car.  that morning, while driving the children to school i reminded them of their afternoon appointments and then i promptly proceeded to pass around the small, white container of dental floss.  "it's my new idea, kids," i explained.  "it's how we will make sure to remember this very important hygenic step in our oral care. we will floss every morning together on the way to school. collectively."  i don't have to tell you, but they all [collectively] rolled their eyes while working the shiny waxed thread through their breakfast coated teeth.

"it's my new idea, kids."

i don't know about you, but i am full of them: new ideas. new procedures.  new systems.  new routines. new ways. i guess in the business world these are called "best practices." but in my house we call them mom's-crazy-going-to-try-to-fix-everything-again-ideas.  i'm famous for them. and they are, indeed, best practices. because we are, very much, in the business of running a busy home and, more importantly, we are in the business of raising some children.  of course, these best practices are more like best attempts or even, at times, just flat out weak attempts...but we try to do our best.  yes, we try.

you name it, i've addressed it:  chore charts and summer reading spread sheets ...vocabulary building banks and kind word awards...memory verses and color coded calendars. labeled bins and boxes and baskets everywhere. we've considered it all and we've covered most of it.  with seven of us sharing space, i am always looking for ways to do things better. faster. cheaper. smarter.  or at least i think i am.  though my husband would probably argue my suggestion of "cheaper," the truth is, we are often desperate for systems and short cuts.  we have to be.  there are too many of us for me to just handle it all quietly and efficiently on my own.  i cannot possibly remind each of my children to floss each of their teeth each morning and each night of each week in each year.  if that's all i had to do, i could.  i really could be a ferocious flossing mama.  but i have a few other things on the list which also need some attention beside the running of wax between their bicuspids.  thus, my constant proposal of "new ideas."

i've been in the business of best practices for years now.  one of my favorites was the "i'm bored bag."  it hung, thumb tacked to a bulletin board in our laundry room up until the time we moved two months ago. you've heard the saying, "necessity is the mother of all invention." well, i consider my sanity to be somewhat necessary and so, on occasion,this mother is forced to invent something new and improved.   this "bored bag" idea was born from a time when the children were all little and clamoring (and on summer vacation).  you know what i'm talking about.  the time when they would, one by one, wander into my  kitchen and announce "there's nothing to do, mom.  i'm bored."  oh my.  that just about made me crazy.  i mean it:  cra-z-eee.  and so, finally, after one of those wildly desperate days, i spent a summer evening writing out little slips of paper with an assortment of horrible, terrible, blood-curdling chores.  i carefully folded each lime green slip of paper before placing it in a bag labeled, "the i'm bored bag."  the next day, when the first small child collapsed listlessly across my countertop and made their dreadful announcement, they were immediately directed to the laundry room and this bag of green slips.  i had them slightly fooled at first.  when they saw the title, they thought they would be drawing a creative, exciting, summer adventure. like, "let's go get a triple scoop of chocolate ice cream and then buy a puppy!" but oh no.  it is never a best practice to reward boredom.  they instead held in their small hand a piece of paper directing them to clean the dust bunnies from underneath the beds, to scrub the stained grout on the bathroom floor or to gather pine cones and small twigs in the july heat of our backyard.   let me tell you, it worked like a charm. i am pretty sure since that summer many years ago, i have hardly heard them use the "i'm bored" phrase in my presence again. this mother's sanity was absolutely the invention of that necessity. or something like that...

but not every new idea works so well. you know that.  there's all kinds of things which we try in our homes which never really work. things which seem like a good idea for a moment.  things which capture our best intentions, but quickly fall forgotten.  like the floss.  yep, did that for one day.  one day last week.  tuesday. that's it.  truly pathetic, huh? only the day we were heading to the dentist did i even attempt to implement this practice...this new, great idea.   but as soon as we cleared several children with a "no cavities" report, i threw that container of floss right back into the kitchen junk drawer.  that's the way it goes sometimes. i guess group flossing in public wasn't exactly a best practice anyway.

last weekend i hit another low point in my domestic duties.  laundry.  you've heard of the "laundry list." well i made one. ten typed tenets i shared with my family. at sunday evening's family meeting they each received their own copy.  even the littlest girl got one.  we took turns reading the bullet points out loud.  point by point by point.  even the husband was in need of that list.  i have been doing the laundry of my family for 22 years, and i had a few things to say.  the mcnatt family had some room for improvement.  here's what i gave them: 

mom’s laundry list
as your mother and wife, i am happy to do your laundry.  really, i am.  in fact, i find it relaxing and an opportunity to bless you.  sometimes, while folding your clothes i even pray for you. yes, i do. i count it a privilege to wash what you wear...

BUT, loved ones, we CAN do better. 
please consider the following items -  (they are not suggestions): 

1.  turn your socks right side out
2. turn your shirts and pants right side out
3. there is no need to wash sweaters or pants or jackets every time they are worn
4. take your underthings out of your spandex, shorts and pants. always. enough said.
5. ask the shirt REALLY dirty or is it that you just don’t feel like taking the time to put it back on a hanger?
6.  if there is a stain -- tell me before i wash it.
7. if it is an item which needs to be dry cleaned -- do not put it in your laundry basket.
8. take  your belt out of the loops and everything out of your pockets -- especially tissues and chap stick! 
9.  towels:  you should only need ONE towel per week.  not three.  not four.  but one.  just one. hang it up each and every time you use it.  if you do this ONE simple thing with your ONE towel...(miraculously) your ONE towel will remain dry and clean and your mother/wife will remain sane. ( well, sort of).
10. the clean clothes in your room belong folded in drawers, hung in a closet or on your body...nowhere else.  not on the floor. not under the bed.  not in a corner.  it IS possible to keep your clothes tidy.  this is a matter of stewardship.  God has provided clothing for your body ... your responsibility is to take good care of it.

“to whom much is given, much is required...” luke 12:48

maybe to some of you these things seem minor.  and i agree,  they are minor.  digging my fingers into the sweaty, dampness of a balled up sock before throwing it into the washing machine is incredibly gross, but it's minor.  there's no way i am going to try to persuade you otherwise.  it is a little thing, but it is also time consuming when you multiply that by seven and then multiply it again by two (we all have two feet).  it's time consuming and it's gross and we can all un-ball our own sweaty, stinky socks before placing them in our laundry hampers. yes, we can.  we can peel out our own underthings from our shorts or pants or volleyball spandex.  we can take off our t-shirts and not turn them inside out.  we can remove our belts and our chapstick from pockets. and we can, by all means,  remember that throwing perfectly clean laundry back into the hamper (because it is easier than hanging it up) is an offense punishable by a cruel and unusual death -- something to do with dental floss.  i realize that my laundry list isn't going to win me a proverbs 31 award or anything.  maybe that perfect proverbs woman didn't fuss at her family about their dirty socks, but she did dress them all in the same color. "when it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet." (proverbs 31:21)  i think she, too, was sort of tired of figuring out who wore what.  she was smart enough to buy bolts of one color and clothe them all in it. brilliant!  that woman had a few best practices up her scarlet sleeve as well.  i'm sure of it.  maybe when it begins to snow here in minnesota (next week?), i'll be shopping for some serious scarlet myself.

the point of this piece? i'm writing today for no other reason than to encourage you to keep up the good fight.  to keep working with what God has given you.  don't give up in the training and the teaching and even in the occasional need for a tirade.  it isn't a final destination, this motherhood thing is a journey.  piece by piece.  best practice by best practice.  don't be afraid to try something new. don't be afraid to do it differently.  even if it feels a little desperate. of course it does! we are all a little desperate now and then. but that's not all bad, it keeps us kind of motivated.  

now, i know that the charts and chores and checklists aren't nearly as important as the state of my child's heart.  of course, more than anything, i want that to be in order.  that's the major in this post of many minors.  but nowhere are we told that these things are mutually exclusive.  we can focus on the heart and the home.  i think that's pretty clear in God's word.  when i begin to feel like a nag or nuisance, i am encouraged to remember, God is absolutely a God of order.  He was the great designer of our universe and the creative developer of all systems.  so, yes, there are times when we just have to throw the floss back into the junk drawer, but don't give up in this business of raising our does, indeed, take a lot of practice...  but it is absolutely the best practice ever.

"train up a child in the way he should go;
 and even when he is old, he will not depart from it." 
 ~ proverbs 22:6

Saturday, October 13, 2012

spread the JOY!

friends ~ today it is my honor to help "spread the joy!" i am sharing a post from my friend diana's blog.  you'll find her link below.  please take a minute to click on it and read.  there's this tiny girl who is about to have life saving heart surgery.  (and you guys know how i feel about tiny little girls and heart surgery).  anyway,  ivy joy came home from china 8 months ago and is now headed to boston this week for life saving open heart surgery (october 19th). 
Spread the Joy
some friends are hosting a fundraiser to help offset the enormous medical costs.  would you take a look at diana's blog and consider purchasing a t-shirt (or twenty)!   team ivy is asking you to:  1. purchase a t-shirt   2. share ivy's story -- spread the joy! and 3. pray. pray. pray.

(to read more about ivy joy and how you can help: 
 just click on the picture of that little cutie pie above!)

diana's blog:

i need to tell y'all more about diana and her amazing family.  will do that soon.  she and her brood are an answer to some very specific prayers for the mcnatt family since our move to minnesota.   but right now, let's order us some cute t-shirts!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

my cheerleading routine

go ahead and laugh.  it's okay.  i can handle it.  is it the red and white saddle shoes or the poorly permed hair? either way, it is most definitely circa 1983! that's my 8th grade cheerleading photo.  pretty cool, huh?  a few days ago a friend from grade school, michelle, posted this picture on facebook, and, of course, it lead to a long thread of jabs... comments ...laughs...memories.

one of the fun things about facebook is getting to re-connect with people and places from the past. i imagine that could also be a not-so-fun-thing, as well.  depends on your past, i suppose.  not that my past was by any means perfect, but i do really get a kick out of the little connections.  maybe you have to be well into your middle age to really get this (or to be heard using the phrase "get a kick out of.") but seriously, i can't believe that i can be a wife, a mother and 43 years old, but still know a tiny bit about people from grade school, high school, college and beyond.  prior to the social media craze, there was just no way that could be possible. we'd show up at our high school or college reunions and marvel at the changes (or lack of changes) we'd encounter.  but now, thanks to things like facebook, we can have a regular dose of these little newsy nuggets.

and, i have to tell you, occasionally, it is fun in the middle of my now, to see something like this pop up.  in the middle of making dinner and dentist appointments and grocery store runs, it is amusing to stop and look at a picture from the past. and remember. to remember that i was 14 once.  to remember that i once wore red and white saddle shoes and cheered passionately for the st. john jets boys' basketball team.

back in 8th grade, i had acne and boy problems and way too much homework.  and of course,  i remember having never enough time,  but that's good to remember too, isn't it?  especially as a mother.  with two high schoolers and one in junior high, it is important for me to remember what it felt like to be that age.  to be that young.  to be figuring it all out.  i mean, let's be honest here,  i am still (clearly) figuring it all out...and unfortunately, i am also [somehow] still battling some acne and not enough time, but the truth is, it is easy to forget what it felt like to be 14. somehow 30 years happened between then and now.  i turned away briefly, and three decades were gone.  we move on from the various chapters of life and often when we do take the time to glance back to the past, our vision becomes blurry and we see only the blaze of glory.  the bright spots. the sunny days. when, if we would take a good look and really stop to remember, we'd most likely recall that not everything was perfect.  for some reason, my kids think my school years were golden.  i don't know where they got that idea, but they have said more than a few times, "mom, it was easy for you.  mom, you did everything well.  mom, you didn't struggle."   really? they know that. they remember, huh? really?  what a terrible disservice i have done them if this fallacy is what they truly believe.  they need to know that their mom faced struggles, challenges, disappointments and yes, even failure.  no one escapes the school years unscathed. no one. not one. not even a cheerleader.

"but mom, you were a cheerleader," they argue.  as if that explains something.  like a girl who can clap on beat and hold two pom-poms in her hands has the perfect life.  wrong.  wrong. wrong.  but funny how we think.  funny the assumptions we make.  funny and dangerous, that is.  so though we have to be careful when we glance back to our past, it still can be a treat to do so.  it is fun to look back and remember the big game or the great laughs. it is wonderful to remember how i had to tear into the locker room to change from basketball player to cheerleader when the girls and boys had games on the same night.  those are great memories.  but what struck me most when i saw this picture earlier this week, was not about remembering the cheerleader i was then, but considering the cheerleader i am now. right now.

that said, before i write even one word further, let me be crystal clear: i wouldn't be caught dead in that red and white get up today (can you hear the audible sigh?  that would be the sound of my kids' relief), but, regardless of costume or uniform, i am needed so much more today as a cheerleader than i ever was in 8th grade.  i thought i was important then playing on the basketball team and getting to cheer lead too, but that is nothing in comparison to my role as wife and mother.  i get to be a lot of things in this role, but one of the most important parts to my job is to cheer for my husband and my kids.  they need me rooting for them.  they need me on the sidelines doing cartwheels and flips and calling out words of encouragement.  and i'm not talking about just when emily is in the middle of a big volleyball match or tyler is on the soccer field scoring another goal.  i am talking about the every day...the daily grind...the little ins and outs of life.  i am talking about being there for my kids in the midst of nothing special, in the middle of the routine. having a word of praise, giving a hug, ruffling some hair, patting a shoulder, making a sandwich, listening to a long story...that kind of thing.

i've saved my saddle shoes and that letter "J" from the front of my cheerleading outfit.  i have the photos and programs and mementos all stashed away and fading in a box marked jody's 8th grade stuff.  it's old stuff.  really old.  and i have no desire to go back, but i have to be thankful for the opportunity to remember and the opportunity to consider the job of cheerleader.  what we do is important.  it was important then.  it is important now.  we don't know what God will choose to use in our lives as we are shaped and transformed.  we can't know.  but we do know He uses much of it. most of it. probably, all of it.  often i believe it is a matter of what we are open to.  will we be open to the the the the learning. i tell my kids that all the time. "God will use this."  i don't know why you have to sit the bench or struggle in that class or lose your phone or forget your homework or stub your toe or have your heart broken...but God will use this. yes, even this. 

i can only speak from experience.  and i am certain some of the, both struggling and successful, roads He led me down then, have helped shape me into who i am now. and that sometimes painful shaping only continues! [thank heavens!} that's what i want my kids to know. not just that their mom could do a cartwheel, but that what happened in 8th grade has an impact on now. and what is happening now, has an impact on tomorrow. there's a take away to be found when we are willing to remember. willing to look. willing to learn. 

last night, i had the chance to watch emily's varsity volleyball team compete in a heated match with a school they had never before beaten.  it was a david and goliath match.  emily's small christian school against a local, large public school.  the girls took the match to five games and after two hours of play, they won.  oh my -- talk about cheering.  i am hoarse today from all the yelling and shouting. it was an amazing evening watching emily and her team play to such a big victory.  that's the fun part of cheering, isn't it?  the victory. the wonderful winning. we all love that experience and find it easy to cheer them on.  cheer them loudly when they are glorious. cheer them exuberantly when they are amazing. brilliant. accomplished. confident.  but, since those 8th grade days of the st. john jets, i have learned that what really counts is cheering my family and friends on when it isn't so glorious.  when it's not so pretty or exciting or hopeful or breathtaking to watch. that's when our cheering really counts. sometimes i have to cheer them on in the middle of something messy or painstaking or even downright boring. i assure you, we have plenty of those moments too.  but cheering is a privilege.  hard or easy, it's an opportunity to encourage.  and, the bottom line is, i signed up for this role when i became a wife and mother. i need to sometimes be reminded of that.

i'm not feeling compelled any longer, to work on my splits or front handspring, but i am certain i needed to see that picture again and remember those saddle shoes and pom-poms from so long ago. i needed to remember what it felt like to be young.  to remember what it felt like to be in want of a few fans.  to remember what it felt like to have someone cheer my name out loud.    

     "encourage each other and build one another up...
just as you are doing."  ~ 1 thessalonians 5:11  

"and let us consider how we may spur (or cheer) 
one another on toward love and good deeds." ~ hebrews 10:24

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

a pioneer woman and her waffle fries

minneapolis --city of water (NOT city of chic-fil-a)
i am fully aware that my hunt was for nothing more than a few chicken nuggets and some waffle fries.  and you probably wouldn't exactly call me a frontier girl for climbing into my black yukon xl with a cute 4 year old in the backseat and driving to downtown minneapolis in search of a chic-fil-a.  but i sure felt like one -- a frontier girl.  a pioneer woman.  at the very least, a desperate housewife and a motivated mother on the prowl for some serious fast food.

you see, we left georgia two months ago and my pioneer-like children have been deeply deprived since that final southern day.  in true survival mode, we've been subject to the meager fast food offerings of only mcdonalds, burger king or taco bell.  there's not a single chic-fil-a restaurant in all of the west metro area of minneapolis.  for those of you reading from atlanta, i can almost hear your gasp.  imagine the entire city of atlanta and not a chic-fil-a franchise to be found -- not anywhere. hard to believe, i know.  astounding, in fact. go ahead and take a minute to let that little absurdity sink in. completely unfathomable, isn't it?

we all knew from the beginning, this move would be an adventure.  we knew we'd pretty much be expected to wear animal pelts and eskimo shoes, but we had no idea we'd have to drive over 40 minutes and 30 miles of highway to hold a white and red bag of fried comfort in our hands.  no idea at all.  i am pretty sure we might have reconsidered agreeing to this new job opportunity, had we really known...had we truly understood the enormity...had we been absolutely aware of the dire situation.  but in our optimism, we all thought quietly to ourselves, "surely not."

oh yes, we have sacrificed mightily.  part of me was kind of ready for this different, rugged type of living.  part of me was a bit intrigued by the idea of a new life requiring layers of GORE-tex, thermal underwear and fur.  seriously.  i have always identified strongly with my childhood role model, laura ingalls wilder.  in fact, it is no surprise to me that i have moved to her home state.  no surprise at all for this girl who, as a child (okay, and even adult), has always embraced all things little house on the prairie. i owned the dolls, i read the books (countless times), and i faithfully tuned in every tuesday night at 8pm on NBC.  as a child, i could recite whole sections of dialogue,  detail each story line and even, on occasion, been known to dress up in a bonnet and calico pinafore (not so much lately, however).   growing up, i organized my siblings and any willing neighborhood children in little house episodes in our backyard.  i mean it, i was as devoted a fan as they come.  in fact, i can remember getting to the end of the book series (the first time) and being absolutely devastated.  i was probably not more than 11 years old when i read laura's final book, the first four years, and i really wasn't really sure what i'd do from that point forward.  i felt that i had arrived at the pinnacle of prairie literature and wondered what more in life could there possibly be?

so here we are just a little over 2 hours away from the setting of these books and the tv series. walnut grove, minnesota is a mere afternoon's car ride away. (i'm itching to go). laura ingalls moved to walnut grove from pepin wisconsin in 1874.  she was 7.  i realize this is 2012 and i am about to turn 44. the ingalls family's first home in minnesota was called a dugout (basically a mud hut), our rental home on the lake is just a tad bit grander. so my connection might seem a bit slim to you.  but i have to tell you, there has certainly been at least some kind of comfort in knowing that i, like laura, would be pioneering a bit in this land up north.

case in point: chic-fil-a.  it has taken us over 2 months to locate the nearest (and, by the way, only) chic-fil-a.  but, today, i found it.  it was a moment of great exploration.  i had left the house this morning, taking my in laws to the twin cities airport for their return trip home.  we knew there was a chic-fil-a inside the airport.  but purchasing the food there would have also involved purchasing a plane ticket.  i didn't feel quite that adventuresome or affluent, for that matter, but we had heard that there was also an establishment located somewhere in the university of minnesota.   so after dropping off rick's parents curb side, bella and i began our trek to the city.  and a trek it was.  you see, the chic-fil-a is located inside the student union of the campus.  keep in mind what a college campus might look like.  keep also in mind that minneapolis has two seasons:  winter and construction.  so, because there is no snow on the ground (yet), streets and ramps and roads are torn up everywhere.  i mean it. i have truly never seen so much rapid construction.  the workers are actually scurrying.  they have much work to complete and surely they know what is coming.  anyway, i followed my handy little iphone directions, but it was a sort of through-the-woods-and-over-the river-to-grandmother's-house-we-go kind of drive.  literally over the river.  let's just say, the normally reliable iphone failed this pioneering woman miserably.  the U of M, i found out today, is basically situated on both sides of the mississippi river.  isn't that so cool to know?   wish i had known that before my exploration began.  anyway, i did have an interesting time going back and forth between the west bank and the east bank, all the while driving through gopher territory trying to decipher detours and road closed signage.  when i finally did locate the general area, i was challenged with college co-ed pedestrians, graduate students and bikers everywhere.  i mean it's a college campus, right?  and i am certain all 50, 000 students were in the small winding streets between me and my waffle fries.  i was a fish out of water for sure.  imagine a suburban housewife and her chinese daughter in a large suv navigating these tiny, tiny university streets. i had no books, no backpack, no bike, nothing that would make me blend in to this maroon and gold academic scene, only bella, my way too large vehicle and my determination to find food.

i want you to know this was an exercise of not only exploration, but of perseverance.  i asked student after student, as i drove (stalker-like) by them, "can you tell me where the chic-fil-a is?" but no one could tell me.  not one. they just gave me and my dark vehicle a dubious look and hugged their trendy backpacks closer to their bodies. i  probably asked 10 students before i finally noticed a young man in a food service uniform. he looked like he might know and the best part is, HE DID! "right inside that big building," he said to me with sort of a smile.  he didn't say "mam" because we are not, and i repeat, not in the south.  but he knew.  and he pointed. and that was enough.  bella and i both gave a big "whoo-hoo" and then spent the next 30 minutes attempting to find a place to park my large vehicle.  yes, it had taken the better part of our afternoon and yes, i probably had more responsible things to be doing, but it was amazing.  i mean it. amazing. we knew the goal was in sight. we could almost smell the chicken.

at this point, i was really feeling strongly connected to my friend, laura ingalls.  do you remember the little house episode when they were in the middle of a blizzard but had to get to the barn to care for the animals?  do you remember how they had a rope tied from their cabin door to the door of the barn?  had they just blindly walked from door to door they might have ended up frozen in a cornfield.  but these people were smart.  they knew what they had to do and they did it.  they knew how to stay the course and they stayed it.  that was bella and me in the middle of the sea of college students.  i knew what had to be done and i did it.  i had five kids counting on me.  we fought against the young and the beautiful twenty-something-year-olds and we kept our heads down plowing persistently forward to the student union of the U of M.  and then all of sudden, THERE IT WAS.  yes it was tucked between a generic mexican food place and a ho hum chinese bistro, but it was THERE.   yes, it was only a chic-fil-a express, but it was THERE.  no, there wasn't one "yes mam" or "it's our pleasure" to be uttered by any worker behind the counter,  but that didn't matter,  we had found it.  we did.  we did. we did.  i am not going to lie, we had some stares.  perhaps it had something to do with our dancing around and bella shouting, "we found it mama, we found it!" perhaps it had something to do with our multiple bags of fast food.  but that didn't matter either.  we had come and we had conquered.  davy crockett may be king of the western frontier, but just for this day, bella and jody felt like queens of the chicken nugget and waffle fries kingdom.

believe it or not, the best part of the day was not eating the fried food, nor was it even finding the chic-fil-a.  the very best part of today's pleasure was texting my kids.  i sent them this picture with the message, "hurry home!" and it gave me great delight to do so, knowing what their reactions would surely be.  i wasn't one bit disappointed. now, i might be stretching the whole frontier girl thing in my little anecdote today and i've clearly stolen the title of "pioneer woman," but i assure you, i was, nonetheless, a rockstar mama this afternoon...and in my own little house series, that's the best part ever.

another gorgeous view of the bridge we crossed (multiple times).  

cool view of the weisman art museum -- bonus for all my detour driving!

pioneer girl, bella -- victorious!