Category Archives: Parenting

No more labels, no more boxes

You’re only 11 years old and yet I am beginning to see the bruises left by society’s labels for girls; from comparing yourself to others and deciding you don’t measure-up, you aren’t as good. And it breaks my heart.

But I am resolved that it doesn’t have to continue, that together we can demolish the world’s benchmark and bust out of that box you are trying to put yourself in. We can drown-out the voices of others so you can hear just one voice, the only One that matters. Because I have my own scars from years, and years of wearing other people’s labels and trying to fit in their boxes, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen to you.

So here’s the thing I most want to tell you, my precious, sweet girl: You are.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are loving.

You are funny.

You are fast.

You are clever.

You are a leader.

You are (fill in the blank with whatever you want to be).

Because YOU get to decide who you want to be, no one else. No one else has the authority to place labels on you.

You are made in God’s image and that makes you precious, and valuable, and free. It makes you a conqueror.

He created you to do great and marvelous things in order to honor Him. He wants you to show the world just how wonderful you are because it is a testimony of His great power and love that He created someone as spectacular as you.

God does not set height and weight requirements for being His beloved daughter.

He does not require straight A’s or straight hair to win His approval.

He will never suggest you quit because you are not the fastest, the prettiest, the most graceful, the smartest, the tallest, the funniest, the most popular.

In fact, He has already put you on the team. You’ve made the cut. He’s called you according to His purpose; His plans. And He wants you, desires you, to come and be a part of His team.

Just. As. You. Are.

 

So, little one. Here’s what I want you to do for me. I want you to repeat after me:

“I am wonderful.” (Psalm 139:14)

“I am precious.” (Isaiah 43:4)

“I am strong.” (Proverbs 31:25)

“I am not afraid.” (Joshua 1:9)

“I am never alone.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“I can conquer anything.” (Romans 8:37)

Then I want you to go find your Bible and highlight those six verses listed above and read them regularly. Remembering that the only labels you should believe are the ones found in that book. The only voice you should listen to is His voice.

(And maybe, sometimes, your mama’s voice, too. Because she knows a thing or two.)

And then, once you’ve read those verses over, and over, and over, then you kick that box you’ve been trying to fit into out the door. Put it in the trash pile, and don’t ever take it back. Because the only label I ever want you to wear is this one:

I Am His

 

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The surprising truth about parenting a teenager

You don’t have to be a parent to know that the general consensus around raising teenagers is “oh boy, hold on to your hat, it’s going to get bumpy” or perhaps something a little more blunt than that. There is this universal understanding that the teen years are the hardest to navigate as a parent, with perhaps the exception of the toddler years. I see it every time someone learns that I have a 14 year old daughter and they respond with a loud whistle or raised brows and big grin and say, “oh boy, you’re in the teen years!” or “phew! I remember those years, hang in there!” or even, “God bless you, teen girls are so hard!”

I’ve heard it all, and I’ve even said these things. I’ve joked with other parents about needing prayers to get through the teen years, or about the extra grey hairs growing on my head, and they’ve laughed or nodded knowingly. Because everyone seems to agree, parenting a teenager is challenging, trying, and even painful.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned  since we entered this phase of life nearly 2 years ago, the surprising truth about raising a teenager: It’s actually the most extraordinary stage of parenting I’ve experienced.

Here’s why.

The relationship is starting to shift. Her needs have changed. My daughter doesn’t call me mommy anymore and she certainly doesn’t need me to hold her hand when crossing the street, pick out her clothes, or even pack her lunches. She is becoming increasingly more independent each year, and while that may sound sad at first, the reality is it has created space and allowed for a new dynamic that I don’t have yet with my younger two.

Beautiful Hannah

She doesn’t need me in the same ways, but she still needs me. Often for something really important like someone to listen to her (just listen) when she’s struggling with a particular friendship or obstacle.

She needs me to set boundaries and then step back and give her the freedom to try new things, even fail, within those boundaries, while remaining close enough to help her up when she falls.

She needs me to know that sometimes a good cry, for no particular reason, is cathartic and part of life. But a hug and chocolate can make it all seem better.

She needs me to speak truth into her life, about how I need and rely on God every day so she may learn to do the same.

She needs my advice about decisions that will shape the rest of her life — big decisions and character defining moments — but only when she asks for it.

She needs me to recognize that she is not a little girl anymore, but also that sometimes she still needs her mom and be ready and available for those moments, without hovering or complaining when they pass.

Mom and daughter

I’m not saying this is always easy, this shift in how she needs me and the ways we relate to each other. And I most definitely get it wrong! I criticize, nag, and yell. I have a tendency to be sarcastic when I should be gentle. I ask too many questions when she doesn’t want to talk, and sometimes offer advice before it’s solicited. I’m still learning.

And for her part, sometimes I am the best mom ever and she will thank me 100 times for something little, and other times I am the enemy or invisible woman who she takes for granted. She’s still learning.

But even with the parts we get wrong; even on the days it’s really hard and one or both of us feels angry, scared, or disappointed in the other, this new relationship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Parenting a teenager is like getting an exclusive preview of the adult this child is going to be. It’s like reading a book about your favorite character and actually getting to play a role in influencing some of their story.

Because you know them more intimately than anyone else. You know where they’ve come from. You know what they’re afraid of, and what they hope for. You get to see all the good in them and the potential that is yet to be realized, but also know there are real struggles and mistakes to be made, which make the victories all the more sweet.

I’m still fairly new to this parenting a teen stage. And maybe it will get more challenging in the coming years, or with my other children. But what I want to say to every other parent who is approaching this stage: Take heart! Because while it might come with some really difficult moments, it’s also so much better than anyone ever tells you!

mom and teenage daughter

You strike a woman, you strike a rock

Updated March 8, 2017. Originally published August 9, 2014.

Several years ago I was in South Africa on a business trip that happened to coincide with their Women’s Day. The national holiday, which is celebrated each year on August 9th, commemorates the day in 1956 when  20,000 South African women marched to government buildings in Pretoria to protest the inequality of women, including a law that required black women to carry “identity passes”. The peaceful protest marked a significant milestone in the women’s and race equality movements in South Africa. It’s reported that after marching to the Union Buildings the women sang a song called Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom that includes the line wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, which translates to “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.

The same strength, resolve, and courage of those women can be seen in women across history and geography. I think all the way back to 478 B.C. and Queen Esther, who stood up to her King and husband to save her people. I think of Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who paved the way for women’s rights in the United States in the late 1800’s. I think of women like Manal al-Sharif and Aziza Yousef who are fighting today  for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. And then…

I think of my daughters.

What will it be like for them to grow up as women in the 21st Century? Living in a world that is becoming an increasingly more global society, where the plight and struggle of women in foreign lands must become the fight and protest of women across the world. I wonder, will they take for granted the freedoms and equality they have in their land of birth? Or will they read about girls in India being raped and neglected, and cry tears for them? Will they see TV reports about the girls who have been kidnapped from their homes and schools in Nigeria, forced into slavery and marriage, and become incensed? Will they learn of the girls stolen or bought from their homes in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America and sold into slavery right here in their own backyard and feel motivated to act?

Will my daughter’s know that they have the  power  responsibility to fight for women across the world? How do I raise my girls to understand that there has never been a more opportune, more precise moment than right now to take action and change the future for all women?

To know that when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

It’s a staggering responsibility, but I’m comforted to know that there are those who have gone before, paving the way. Organizations like The Seed Company and their Esther Initiative, with the single goal of translating and sharing over 20 Bible stories that will teach women of their value, worth, and the love of God. The Esther Initiative

Companies like Noonday and Fashion and Compassion that are creating “pathways out of poverty” for women in underdeveloped and vulnerable countries around the world. And organizations like Days for Girls ensuring no girl misses school simply because she doesn’t have access to sanitary supplies.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

And I can teach my girls through example.

By shopping from companies that empower women artists and entrepreneurs, I can show them that what we buy and how we spend our money can make a difference in the lives of women around the world. By planning and leading a women’s retreat twice a year I can show them the importance of self-care and nurturing their relationships with Jesus and with other women.

When I speak of other women I can comment on their strength, their hearts, and their virtue instead of their clothing, their hair, or their size.  When I engage with other women I can treat them as equals, as sisters, and as friends, instead of as competition for men, or jobs, or attention.

I can show them through my words and actions that strength is beautiful, kindness is powerful, and education is the key to unlocking doors; that they deserve to be cherished and respected by the men in their life. And to always remember the One who envisioned all they could do and be when He created them with love.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

 

graduation
Education is the key to unlocking doors, girls

There is more. So much more that can be done, needs to be done so my girls grow up to be sisters of change. But this is where I start.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

To my daughters, and to all of the beautiful, strong, and smart women in my life and around the world: Happy International Women’s Day!

The gift of broken tear ducts

When I was 17 years old my aunt took me to see “Miss Saigon” at the Kennedy Center. I cried ugly, drippy tears throughout a good part of it and felt a gut-wrenching loss and sadness for the characters in the story. The next day I bought the soundtrack. I remember driving in my little blue Hyundai Excel, listening to that cassette tape over and over, just sobbing as I drove, even months after seeing the show. It was then that I knew I might have a problem.

Over the years I have struggled with a growing sensitivity and overtly emotional response to certain things. At first I didn’t think I was vastly different from others. In college my two best friends and I would watch “Touched By An Angel” every Sunday night and pass the tissues back and forth (or roll of toilet paper, whatever was handy). In the early days of my marriage I cried just as easily over a sweet, romantic gesture as I did over disagreements, but so did other wives, I reasoned. Weddings and funerals always required water-proof mascara and a pack of tissues, but there were always others with the same need. I didn’t feel like I was alone in these responses.

Then at 26 I had my first child and whatever emotional dam was still in place just disintegrated. I began to cry at everything! And I mean everything. I cried at movies and over news reports. I cried at church. I laid in bed at 2 a.m. sobbing over a book. I cried while praying over a sick or hurting friend. I cried in the shower as the previous night’s argument replayed in my mind. At first I tried to blame it on pregnancy hormones, but after 6 or 7 years people stop accepting that as an excuse.

It didn’t help that as time moved on, it got worse.

Over the years any ability to temper when, where, or in front of whom I cry has been lost. These days a kind, heartfelt word from a stranger in the check-out line can make my eyes brim with tears. I cry at parent-teacher conferences and sitting in bleachers watching my kids play basketball, run cross country or dance in a ballet recital. I have sat in restaurants talking with friends and wiping my eyes and nose with napkins as they share their life and I share mine. And here’s the thing: it’s not really the content or the words that make me cry, it’s the feelings.

I feel all of it. Everything.

When that stranger in Target says, “you have really polite kids” I feel all the many frustrating days spent reminding them over and over to use their manners and be kind to one another. When I see my daughter running across that finish line, I feel her pain and hard work and how much she wanted to beat her best time. When the teacher tells me how my son is improving, I feel every hard day he came home with a poor behavior note and every hard night spent working with him around the dining room table, encouraging him to stay focused and finish his homework. When my friend sits across from me at that restaurant and tells me how difficult things have been in her marriage, or how she feels God has abandoned her, I feel her hurt and suffering. And just this afternoon I read the good news that a Syrian refugee family my childhood church was sponsoring finally made it safely to the U.S. after many delays; and I just cried because I felt the relief, the exhaustion, and the hope this family must feel to finally be here, be safe, and have a roof over their heads.

I feel it all. And the tears flow without warning, without control.

It can be embarrassing, off-putting, and frustrating to not have any control over these emotions or my body’s response. I was lamenting about this to a friend, who suffers a similar affliction, a few months ago and she said: “it’s because you’re an empath.” A what? I had never heard this term, but after she explained it to me and I did some reading I realized the traits used to describe an empath were very similar to traits I had recently read about after completing a spiritual gifts assessment for my church.

I had been excited to take the assessment, eager to see my spiritual gifts in writing, and expecting a confirmation of where I already felt called to be working in ministry. But I confess I was underwhelmed and confused by the results. Three of my top rated gifts included Mercy, Exhortation, and Faith, and I thought: What do these mean? How are faith and mercy spiritual gifts? These are things you just do or have. And what the heck is exhortation anyway?

It was mercy that really stumped me, though. Aren’t we all called to show mercy? I didn’t see how that was a special God-given gift.

But after talking to my Pastor and later having this conversation with my friend, I started to see a connection between this spiritual gift and my deep emotions. I began to do more research on spiritual gifts and how God calls them out in scripture. As I put the pieces together, I realized the spiritual gift of mercy isn’t just the act of showing mercy, it is an ability to feel great empathy for others, to walk alongside them in their pain, suffering, or even joy and show Christ’s love through that deep understanding. As one author explained it, those with the gift of mercy are able to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way…fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

So I started to wonder if my intense feeling was actually a gift. If my broken, leaking tear ducts were not actually a burden or something to be embarrassed by after all, but rather part of a call on my life from God — a channel for Him to use me to fulfill His plans. And then do you know what happened?

I started to cry.

romans 12:15

If you want to learn more about Spiritual gifts, I recommend reading Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 28-30, and Ephesians 4:11. You can also go to this website and take a free Spiritual Gifts assessment: http://spiritualgiftstest.com/

photo credit: Stefano Montagner – The life around me Irish Museum of Modern Art via photopin (license)

Four reasons why I do mommy dates

One of my favorite childhood memories is from when I was about five or six years old. My little sister was having her adenoids removed, so while my mom was with her at the hospital all day, I went to work with my dad. Sure, part of what made that such a cool memory is because at that time my dad worked at the White House and I got to see the well-oiled machine of support staff that keep the White House running day-in and day-out and the underground city they worked in: mechanical rooms, florist shops, kitchens, wood shops, and more (I might be remembering this with rose colored glasses, but to a 6 year old it was pretty cool).

But I  think what really made that day so special was that it was just me and my dad for the whole day. No pesky adorable little sister to take his attention; no hushed “grown-up” talks between he and mom. It was just us…and about 500 White House employees.

I had just barely turned one when my sister arrived so I don’t really remember a time when I had my parents all to myself. Spending the day with my dad felt like something really special. I think it’s partly due to this memory that I have found it important to have mommy-daughter or mommy-son dates with my kids.

My eldest was two and a half when she stopped being an only child. To make matters worse, she didn’t just gain a brother OR a sister overnight, she got both! I remember after I found out I was pregnant with twins holding little Hannah in my lap and crying because I was worried that my husband and I would be so consumed with two new babies, she would feel completely neglected and ultimately scarred for life! OK, so maybe that was the pregnancy hormones talking.

I do realize there  are people who have triplets, quads, or even more at the same time, and their kids turn out fine. I also realize there are people with very large families and kids who grow up with a new sibling being born every year or two for most of their childhood. So maybe having to share mom and dad with just two other siblings doesn’t sound like such a big deal…and I’m sure my kids would be just fine if they never had that one-on-one time. But, here’s what happens when we do:

First, the child going on the date usually gets to pick what we do. Oh boy! The excitement of being able to decide our activity and/or where we eat, without having to compromise, take a family vote, or yield to a sibling’s desires. This is like winning the lottery for them!

Second, we get to talk — uninterrupted! Sometimes I feel like I need a flashing sign that says “now serving number 45” and a deli counter number wheel just so my kids stop fighting about whose turn it is to tell me something really important, like how many EXs or YZs or whatevers their Pokemon cards have (I seriously do not speak Pokemon). And can I tell you the only thing worse than having to listen to a child give me a 15 minute detailed description of their Pokemon cards is having to listen to multiple kids fight over who gets to tell me about their Pokemon cards first! Not to mention when you have two in the same grade/class, there is always fighting over who gets to tell me what happened at school. So when it’s just one-on-one time there is no taking a number, no waiting for your sister to finish her 20 minute story about what happened during the 5 minute bathroom break, or feeling jilted because your brother got to tell me about the cool new math game you played today. Also, I have a teenager now. There’s a LOT she absolutely will not tell me in front of her brother or sister, so this one-on-one time opens up so many opportunities for her to share. And trust me when I say, I savor every bit of it.

Third, I get to see the best versions of who my children are. Seriously, when it’s just me and one child, they are the kindest, funniest, most gracious, well-mannered child in the world. But get them in the backseat of a car with their siblings and they turn into screaming, fighting, selfish, rude, head-spinning heathens! So it’s nice every few months to see a glimpse of who they might actually be one day, and to know that, indeed, they may have actually learned a thing or two I tried to teach them.

Lastly, these dates create sweet, sweet memories. Just like I can still remember that day with my dad from 35 years ago, I know my kids will remember these days for a long time to come. Often, at the end of a particularly long or exhausting day, after I’ve said ‘brush your teeth’ 20 times, and ‘who left their dirty dishes in the sink’ 50 times; while I’m tucking them into bed and simultaneously complaining about the fact that I can’t see the floor of their room underneath all of those clothes, I get asked, “mom, do you remember that time we went to see The Music Man, just me and you?” Or “mommy when is our next mother/daughter date? I really want to go back to Polka-dot-Pot and paint that jewelry box we saw last time.” Or my favorite, “mom, do you remember that time we went to the monster truck rally and got to eat cotton candy, just me and you? That was the best day ever.”

And selfishly I think,  ‘oh please hang on to those memories and let them be stronger than the memories of the tired mom who lost her cool one too many times.’ And I know, these dates are just as much for me as they are for them.