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A Family Shaped by Grace

morlandOur youngest child will be leaving for college in about eight weeks, going to a school more than 1000 miles away and we are so excited for her! We helped our girl choose where to go, but it was ultimately her decision, and the school she chose is more expensive than most of the others she considered. This detail didn’t concern us much, because we have given our children a set amount of money for college and they are responsible for the rest, by way of scholarship or sweat. No loans.
Over the last few weeks our daughter has talked a great deal about money and wondering aloud how much is enough for her to make over the summer as a full-time CNA at a retirement community. It finally occurred to me to listen to what she was really saying, and realize that she wasn’t sure of the details of her part in paying for college. We had gone over it more than once in the past, but now that it’s getting close, she needed more information and lots of encouragement.
My guy and I sat down and went through all the numbers last night and you could see the relief wash over Georgia’s face. It wasn’t as bad as she had thought, she was going to be just fine. Uncomfortable, but fine. This little experience reminded me of something I’ve been reading.
I just read a newly released book called A Family Shaped by Grace by Gary Morland. The writer is a sober alcoholic whose addiction and family history affected the quality of their family for years. Over time, with the help of a Christian mentor, Morland learns the importance of leaning on Christ for what he needs, and pouring out grace to those he loves most. This is shown in many practical ways; reacting with love and acceptance over anger and bitterness, choosing not to be offended, and being actively present in conversations, asking questions with real interest and to gain understanding, not information.
The book didn’t necessarily contain new concepts for me; it is Bible based and built on ancient themes, but it was a good reminder to me that I need to be the safest place possible for my people to be themselves, and I need to listen carefully to what is being said, and what is not. It also confirmed a suspicion I have had for years that in order to love well, we must fight against making gods out of our loved ones, trust God to be who He promises and allow our family members to be imperfect, messy humans.
I wish I had realized sooner what our daughter needed from us, simple information and reassurance. There was no need to be evasive or to reprimand her for not getting it before, our job is to love on her and give her what she needs, not necessarily what she wants. I think this book came to me at a good time, I am thankful for the opportunity to gain more tools in equipping this family to be as strong as possible.
To order: https://www.amazon.com/Family-Shaped-Grace-People-Matter/dp/0800727959/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496953619&sr=8-1&keywords=a+family+shaped+by+grace

Rubiks Cube

 

rubiks

There are times going through life that something occurs and you know that you will not be able to return to what was ever again; you move cross country or leave an important relationship and can feel the glacial shift deep within your self. It’s like a Rubik’s cube and a new row of matching colors has just been lined up; a feeling of satisfaction comes over you because you are a big step closer to the goal.

In our family, a whole side of the cube turned over and got matched this past weekend: our youngest child graduated from high school. I distinctly remember the morning of the first day of kindergarten for our oldest, I wrote a letter to the three little people in our house, explaining the fact that life would be changing from here on out, we would be on the schedule of the school system, with an influx of papers and projects and tests. Our focus moved to the daily muddling through with a very distant goal.

Somehow those three little kids stretched out and became taller and smarter, they started to think for themselves and visualizing their own goals and our house is becoming bigger and quieter by the day. The chaos has changed to small bursts and been replaced with long stints of near silence. In the most practical sense, I have worked myself right out of a job.

When our first two children graduated and started moving towards their next steps I had a deep sadness and already started to dread how it would feel to have the last one move on, but so far I feel nothing but excitement for the future. Their future. Because this isn’t about me. For years they were an extension of me, hanging off of me and looking to me to see how to react to life, but now they have stronger legs than mine and they know how to respond, even if an occasional call to Mom or Dad needs to be made.

 The part that is about me? The Rubiks Cube that keeps getting closer to being completed?  It is a life filled with memories and experiences that have helped to make me who I am, and I can’t wait to see what color of the cube we work on next.

 

Handle With Care

bubble wrap

Feeling a need for bubble wrap today. I want to take a huge roll of the stuff and start it at my core and spin around multiple times, I’ll need a helper with some strong tape to secure it tight after I’m snug in there. Maybe some headphones first, alternating between smooth jazz and the sound of waves crashing, then bubble wrap. Can you see through several layers of it? Sunglasses too, just in case.

That’s how fragile I feel, like nerve endings are standing off of my skin. Our son moved into college over the weekend and our oldest daughter is moving across the country to start her schooling later this week. The baby of the family? Yep, just left for her first day of senior year in high school. I have been working myself out of a job for years, knowing full well that this day would come, and yet I am completely unprepared. I don’t recognize the landscape anymore.

I actually woke up mad at Jesus Saturday morning, reminding him that I thought we had an agreement that He would come before I had to endure all of this! Fortunately, He can handle my anger. And my ache.

A friend of a friend reminded me of something over the weekend: lament is an appropriate form of worship. In fact, more than one third of the book of Psalms are laments, cries of fear and suffering and unjust. God wants us to bring our joy and anguish to Him, He wants every bit of it. So these days I am handing him my puffy eyes, deep sighs and crying jags that sometimes come out of nowhere. I’m going to try to go easy on myself and feel all the feelings that go with this parenting deal, so if you see me staring into space or trying hard not cry, feel free to pretend not to notice, and maybe check to make sure my bubble wrap is staying in place, will you?

 

 

 

Decisions

wayRiding in the car with my son, chatting about the future, these talks are happening more and more often. We are traveling to Chicago this weekend for a ‘serious’ college visit and making plans for Colorado soon and I am struck by the way these kids have so many options in front of them. I ask a question or two about someplace specific and he responds with a knee jerk “no” and another school is off the table. Never to be considered again. When our daughter was looking a few years ago, her first criteria was a good website; if the site was unclear or difficult to navigate it was eliminated from the list of candidates. It seemed so reckless at the time, but it was important to her. I felt like I was watching an alternate future being discarded, while she probably saw it as narrowing her choices.

As parents we know how big this decision is, it paves the way to their careers and potential mates, their friendships and experiences. And yet, if our son eats a bad burrito on the way to a college visit it can change his entire opinion of that school. It occurs to me that as adults we do the same thing all the time. We don’t necessarily understand the gravity of our choices and often make decisions based on emotion and the thoughts of others. I’m reminding my son to pray and seek God’s wisdom, while making all kinds of seemingly benign decisions on my own each day. The truth is that we put so much weight into these big decisions – college, career, mate – when it’s the small ones that can determine who we are going to be.

I’m guessing that God watches us make choices all day, some intentional but many quite reckless, and we are shrugging off opportunities and alternate futures all the time. He assures us that He is aware of our past and our future (Psalm 139:5), and He will tell us which way to go, if we will seek Him (Isaiah 30:21), the trick is to seek Him in the small, as well as the big decisions in life.

 

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

beanOver the years our children have stretched our thinking in so many areas, and in these last few months we have had another opportunity to view life in another way. Our daughter is no longer going to college. We weren’t shocked this summer when she came to us and suggested taking some time off; she had had a great first year but was feeling like she was supposed to be doing something more. As her parents we wanted to encourage and support, but struggled with our role in the decision-making. My guy had similar doubts twenty five years prior, told his parents and was informed that basically he needed to get over it and get back to the grind. But this is our strong-willed, mission-minded girl who sees the world differently than most. I had the feeling that forcing her to go back to school would be an exercise in futility. And a waste of time and money. I have no doubt that Jessica could play the game and earn a degree and be a stepping stone closer to whatever it is that we are all working towards. But is that the point? She is learning that just because she can go to college doesn’t mean she should.

My generation has been sold a story that when our kids hit that last year of high school, they should have a plan and a scholarship to a major school. As parents we need to remember that colleges are for profit, a commodity sold to so many people who don’t really need it. Universities were originally built to educate the finest minds only, and over time have been made available to anyone who is willing to pay for them. I firmly believe that this next generation will question the validity of their educations against the amount of the school debt accrued, and begin to look for creative ways to get what they need to succeed in today’s environment.

Recently she told me that when someone asks her how school is going and she informs them that she’s not there anymore, the response is normally a knee-jerk,”Oh, that’s okay” from whoever she is talking to. Funny, they feel a need to give her permission to do the unusual. But she’s not looking for permission – from her parents or from anyone else. She’s looking for her way. And her way is probably going to be very different than most. Maybe she will end up on another continent helping the vulnerable. Perhaps she will serve others here. My part in this is not to get too caught up in what society says she should be doing, and encourage our girl to seek God’s will for her future. As long as she does that, it’s way more than ‘okay’, it’s perfect.

 

More, Please

moreI wrote this one year ago, and it seems appropriate this time of year, whether your baby is entering college, the mission field, high school, the military, kindergarten or independence described another way.

Our daughter left for college last week. We drove her to her dorm, unloaded a years’ supply of snacks and dorm supplies and then it was time to actually leave without her. To get into the vehicle and drive home without my little ray of sunshine. She had chatted the whole way there, talking excitedly about everything that entered her mind. The drive home was completely quiet. I’m pretty sure I scared my guy; for the first time in our marriage he tried to get me to talk.

I had no words to express the emptiness I felt. A friend had warned that I would feel like I had lost something for a few days and walk around in a fog. Yes, the fog was there, but it also felt like a gaping wound that everyone should be noticing and trying to cover for me. During that drive home I tried to think of what I could have done differently. Did we teach her everything she needed to know? How in the world is 18 years enough time to cover it all? What could I tell my friends to do to protect themselves from this terrible ache? The only thing I came up with was less:

Less hugging.

Less praying.

Less hurting.

Less talking.

Less singing.

Less worrying.

Less cooking.

Less listening.

Less looking.

Less teaching.

Less dancing.

Less playing.

Less laughing.

Less loving.

If we had cut out all these things over the years, perhaps the hurt wouldn’t have been so great. Maybe it would have even been a relief to see her off, on her own for the first time. With this perspective I was suddenly okay with my open wound and puffy eyes. I’ve earned my right to feel this way because I have loved this girl with everything I’ve got.

I’ve hardly worn make-up all week because it gets washed away with tears too often right now, and that’s okay too. More than okay.

What’s Your Message?

messageMy oldest and dearest friend just impressed my socks off…..I love it when someone I know so well can still surprise me like this. My friend, we will call her Deborah, has a daughter the same age as my oldest; our girls are both seniors in high school and constantly talking about where to go to college next year.

Deborah’s daughter is interested in many different options in several states so they have systematically visited every school her daughter has shown serious interest in; this past week alone, the duo drove over 2,000 miles together to visit four campuses!

Now, my friend is no pushover. She has a successful counseling career and two more teens in her house. We have a terrible time scheduling a decent phone conversation because of her crazy schedule; I cannot imagine what she had to do to make this trip happen.

Deborah set aside her own ideas and agenda and sent several huge messages to her daughter:

You are worth it

You have my respect

You deserve to be happy

You can do anything you want to do

Notice that not one of these messages was about the mom, they were all about her daughter. Impressive, indeed.

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