Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Closing the Chapter on Middle School ~ Benedict's Graduation & A Surprise Trip to Kansas City for a Royals Game

In every mother's heart, there is a book filled with the chapters of her children's lives.  And when she looks at her children she sees every page of their lives from beginning to the present.  Their faces are a portrait of memories from infancy and outgrowing training wheels to the first day of school and beyond.  This is a great and wonderful mystery of the mothering heart, how she is able to hold everyone and every memory so close, and how no one knows what it all means but her.
When I look at my fourteen year old boy, I can see his sweet littleness and brave bigness all at once. In an effort to cling to the goodness of the past and the beauty of the present moment, I feel my heart struggling to push back the anxiety and fear that comes with knowing our first baby has arrived at the doorstep of high school.  
The chapter on Benedict's middle school years has come to an end, and celebrating this wonderful milestone with him has been a true joy for us.  During the graduation Mass and presentation of awards, I couldn't resist glancing over at Steve, communicating the depths of my feelings to him with a look that said, "Look at our baby! He's so big! Aren't you proud?? Is your heart bursting, because mine is bursting?!!!"

I think he thought I had a glob of mascara in my eyes, because he definitely wasn't feeling the emotional vibes I was shooting like a missile across the pew. Mind reading is not really man's gift.

To be honest, I feel like Ben's middle school years were pretty mellow.  I'm definitely not complaining about that, it's just that I think I had prepared myself for things to be much more difficult. I certainly don't want to graft my life experiences on to my children, but since my memories of middle school aren't exactly filled with merriment, I couldn't help but brace myself for the worst. I haaaaaated middle school.  Whenever I stroll down memory lane my brain takes a serious short cut through the back alley of those years.

Maybe it's just a boy thing.  Maybe the challenges that come with being a middle school teen just don't bother boys the way that they bother girls.  Or, maybe boys simply don't find flailing on the bed in a sea of tears very therapeutic. Or, maybe the ups and downs that Ben experienced over the past couple of years were, to him, easy to handle because he knew he had a great support system here at home (I hope he felt that, I really do).
I will say that I am terribly grateful for the boys in Ben's class.  I know for a fact that they made his transition from homeschool to private school a smooth one. Those boys have been together since pre-school, and yet they welcomed Ben into their tight-knit fraternity with open arms.  He must have told us dozens of times how grateful he was to be a part of such an awesome group of guys.
I had the opportunity to get to know Benedict's classmates a little better while coaching track this spring, and I really do have a special place in my heart for each one of them.  They come from terrific families, and they are going to accomplish great things in high school and beyond.
On the last day of school the eighth grade boys and girls scrimmaged the parents and coaches in a game of basketball.  Steve and I had a blast embarrassing Benedict with air balls and double dribbles.
After the scrimmage, all of the eighth graders were subjected to the torture of an ice-cold dunk tank. When it was my turn to aim for the target, I gave Ben the option of professing his unwavering love and devotion for me in front of the class in exchange for mercy.  He immediately declined, so I did the right thing and dunked him reeeel good.
On the drive home, Benedict turned to me and said, "Mom, when Joseph is in 8th grade, I will have already graduated from college.  I may even be married and have a family of my own. I am going to come back for his scrimmage, the dunk tank and graduation."

GULP. That was a "Jesus take the wheel" moment.  

Wow.  There's some perspective for ya.  Maybe by then I'll be used to closing this chapter on our boys' lives. Maybe I'll even have a handle on my tears.

Maybe not.

A few more photos and tales from graduation day...
 We surprised Ben on the last day of school with a candy card (another brilliant idea from Pinterest).
 Hello, dental bills.
I love watching the boys getting spiffy together. Henry missed the memo on dress socks.
 90% of our photos look like this.
 The other 10%. 
Joseph is M.I.A. He felt it was the perfect time to sleep of the carb load of Cheerios and peach puffs from afternoon snack time.
 My parents were happy to come and share their love and support for Benedict.
Benedict with Grandpa Bob. Steve's mom was in Rome, but was definitely with us in spirit!
Each of the 8th grade students put together a scrapbook of their elementary and middle school years.
The books were put out on the tables at the reception for family and friends to enjoy.  Benedict really dreaded this project, because he couldn't see the purpose in it.  I encouraged him to consider it to be a portrait of his life so far - a tangible display of the gifts and opportunities that God has given him, which can be a way of discerning God's will for his future.  When it was finally complete, I think he was surprised to see his story unfold, and what a beautiful and blessed story it truly is.  
 The parents of one of Ben's classmates put together a slide show featuring photos of each of the graduates.  I loved watching all of the kids' faces during the show.  I could see that they each felt really loved by their family and friends and also very proud of their school and all of their personal accomplishments.
Six cups of sugar and Red Dye #40 later, Henry decides he'll be ready for sleep sometime next week.
 Josie and Joseph, class of 2028!!
 Benedict's graduation gift was a surprise trip to Kansas City to watch the Royals play the St. Louis Cardinals.  We sat right long third base line about 10 rows up from the Cardinal's dugout.
 Even though the game was rained out in the 6th inning, we still had a really great time!
I find that these times of celebration pass all too quickly, and soon we are back in our work shoes, marching through the ordinary days of life.  I am, though, equally thankful for those ordinary days, because I know that no matter what we are called to do with the time we are given, to be able to work and live and laugh and cry together as a family really is the sweetest time, and it is not to be overlooked or dismissed because our sights are set on times and opportunities that we hope will be easier, more pleasing or more enjoyable...times and opportunities that require less of us in the way of virtue and devotion.  These ordinary days, in which we forge ahead, are shaping our sons into men, and I count every single one that I get to spend with them, before they leave our home, as precious, precious gift.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

For Want of Wonder ~ Summer UnGoogled

The world will never starve for want of wonders; 
but only for want of wonder. 
~  G. K. Gesterton
Every spring I marvel at the earth's transition from the stark, bland, bareness of winter into a colorful, lush abundance.  It's as though the long months of short, dark days somehow drown out the most fond memories we have of warmth and green and bright, making spring's entrance all the more profound experience for the watchful, waiting soul.
The countryside's landscape of crops and pastureland is particularly fruitful right now, as we have experienced the blessing of plentiful rains. Last weekend, heaven's showers filled to the peak ponds and creeks all across the county.

First sightings of sunshine meant all of the kids, who had been patiently waiting out the storms, could wait not a second longer to charge out into the overflow that ran like a mini-river along the edge of town.
Our boys spent the entire day on Sunday, perched on whatever they could find to keep them afloat, which included snowboards, buckets and Dollar Store inner tubes.  For hours, they floated carefree in the shallow current, their joy-soaked souls beaming through bright smiles.

Charlie was especially fun to watch that day.  He is our little tender-heart, often timid and apprehensive when it comes to trying new things. But, as long as he is close to Andrew, his bravery soars.  I dearly love how brotherly love inspires courage in the little ones.
Watching the boys run wildly, tirelessly up and down the mini-river, splashing and spinning on the tubes, even scouring the creek bottom for crawdads really made me pine for an unplugged, unhurried, uneventful summer.  A summer of real wonder, exploration, discovery, appreciation, even boredom.
I have always felt that boys, much more than girls, need to have a time and space where they can be free.  Free to be themselves.  Free to live fully their wild, energetic nature without being told over and over again to settle down, be still and be quiet.

Don't underestimate the value in this, moms.  I believe that when our sons are allowed this time of freedom, the expectations we have of them to enter our homes in an orderly fashion is much more attainable for them, and for us.

Sunday's experience has left me longing for every opportunity for the boys to flee the confines of the school house and soak in all the unplanned, unstructured, unPinterested adventures that await them in the tops of trees, piles of dirt, cumulus cloud skies.  I long for them to seek out and discover all of the possibilities that lie hidden in the plethora of boardgames, water guns, sleeping bags, bicycles and junk piles strewn about their little world.

I long also for three months without Google.  Something a little more like the life I knew as a child. A life where wonder leads to questions and questions lead to contemplation and contemplation leads to answers, and if not answers then a deeper thirst for knowledge and understanding.  And, if knowledge and understanding are not the fruits that bloom of wonder and contemplation, but rather a soul content with mystery, then mystery it is.

Steve and I have spent hours upon hours discussing all the possible ways we can encourage and support wonder, curiosity and a sense of adventure in our boys.  We also talk about our failures as parents to keep them from, or at least limit those things that rob their sense of wonder, such as electronics, too many structured activities or trying to come up with solutions for their whining and boredom instead of allowing their personal discomfort and disenchantment to be motivation enough.

But, how do we get them to a place of wonder, you ask?  What do you guys think about kicking 'em outside with a bottle of sunscreen and a bucket of Kool-Aid? I think that's exactly what our parents did to us, and hey! We survived! (Don't forget to lock the doors.)

Give me some of that wonder and a cold beer to sip while I watch my boys ramble home hungry and happy, and it's going to be one fine summer y'all!

What are your hopes for the summer?...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

To all the "Average" Kids Out There: You May Not Know It, But You Could Be the Best Big Toe Ever

Tomorrow night my son, Benedict, will be graduating from middle school.  Insert sobbing here.  

{Sorry, still sobbing.}

I'm not going to go with the typical laments like, "Where did the time go?" or "Why did he have to grow up so fast?," because those questions torture my brain.  They have no answers.  However, if I should find the answers after blowing through a box of tissues and consuming bottle of wine, I'll be sure to come back and edit this post. 

One of the year-end projects Benedict was required to complete before graduating was a scrapbook of his life, primarily of his school days, from preschool through eighth grade. (Do you want to see a few glimpses from the early years?? Of course you do...)
{Left: Drooling on the Sears Portrait Studio bear, circa 2001.
Right: I'm smiling 'cause there's a wedgie under these Wranglers, throwback to 2005.}

Back to the scrapbook... I must confess, my boys are not crafters. Boys in general don't typically spend their free time browsing Hobby Lobby for coordinating paper and stickers because they prefer to spend their precious free time capturing the epic moments of their middle school years (do they??). So, my boy, he be needin' some serious help with this project.  I'm no helicopter mom, but sometimes certain situations in life call for some hovering.

Anyway, like the professional procrastinator that I am, I was "helping" him cut and paste the last few pictures into the book, while he wolfed down breakfast, the morning the scrapbook was due.

 Let me just tell you what scrappin' it up at 6 a.m. does for mother-son bonding: Not a damn thing

I blame the last minute cut and paste panic on the thief who stole my laptop a few weeks ago, the laptop which contained a grande file of photos that I had been collecting for the project since last fall. That whole situation temporarily deflated my carpe scrapbook enthusiasm, but whatever Mr. McThief. Karma (or all the saints I've been prayin' to for your conversion's) gon gitcha.  

Moving on....

During the hourrrrrzzz, that I spent with Benedict sorting through endless pre-pimple photos and trying to come up with clever captions to summarize each magic moment, I realized something unexpected.  Every glossy photo-filled page he created tells the story of the life of a boy who the world will probably always categorize as average, but who is oh, so very far from just that.

While we were working together, once in a while I would catch a disappointed expression on Ben's face.  It was an expression that made me wonder if Ben agrees with the world's estimations of him. 

The lack of photos filled with trophies, ribbons, and perfect scores can understandably make a young man wonder why his mother would ever be content to just capture his infectious smile, his strong arms reaching out to hold a sibling, his honoring heart working beside his father all day long in the heat of the summer until the job was done.  

Those are the best things that a mother sees through her lens.  Things the world won't see, but things she'll spend her life trying to convince her son are the most valuable of all.
More than anything in this world, I think that Ben would truly love to be a stellar athlete. I watch in admiration at all of the effort and hard work he puts into every sport he plays.  I just wish I could have gifted him with even a few supreme athletic genes.  I mean, I pretty much knew in elementary school, while all the other girls were doing back handsprings across the playground, and I was just trying to avoid getting chucked with dodge balls by the boys, that I was never going to be any sort of sporty phenomenon. 

Now my husband, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.  He contributes about 90% of every family gene associated with visually appealing coordination, strength and grace.  He's pretty much the total skillz package. Thank the Lord for him, thank. the. Lord.

But, you are young, I say to Benedict. Don't give up! Some of the best athletes started out being far from the best, or great, or even good.  Talent sometimes takes time to develop.  Keep practicing! Your father and I believe in you!.... 

He nods, always nods affirmative, eyes drifting down toward the ground far away from my words, and I know that he cannot find, in his teenage will, the strength to trust what I have said.

I recognize, in our oldest son, that he doesn't need for us to sign him up for more summer camps or music lessons or private tutoring.  He doesn't really even need more encouragement. He just needs a different kind of it.  The real-life unsugar-coated kind.  And, I'm right at home giving him just that, because I know from experience that there's a lot more substance behind being "average" than what the world can see, than what Benedict can see in himself. 

So, I reach down deep into some personal experience, grab my bible, and proceed with the "Big Toe" talk.  

{That is not a typo.} 

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  
If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body." 
And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? 
If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But, as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as He chose
~ 1 Corinthians 12:14-18

As a child I remember wanting to be able to do those back handsprings, too. In middle school and even high school it was volleyball, basketball, academics, music, friendships, you name it, I went for it, but I was never great, just good enough to hang in there with the rest.  I wasn't a heart or brain or spine.  I was a big toe.  

The big toe is a worker, a try-and-try-harder member of the body.  The big toe isn't admirable or attractive, and it stays hidden in a shoe most of it's life.  But, without the big toe, the body struggles to remain balanced, strong, composed.  The big toe holds the body up.  It pushes off the pavement, propels movement, gains ground for the good of the entire body step, by step, by step.

And, if the big to doesn't do what it was created to do, the body is weakened, it's direction is compromised.  Perhaps, at least for now, Ben is being asked to fulfill the role of the big toe.  I want him to know that there is no shame whatsoever in that. In fact it is my life-long prayer for him that he will be able to recognize and embrace with confidence all the ways that God is shaping him as a young man through the gifts He has chosen uniquely for him, and that he will have the courage to live a life of virtue through the offering of those gifts to the world.

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members, one of another.  
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.  
~ Romans 12:4-6

It took me a very long time to figure out that being the toe wasn't so bad.  It took me even longer to realize that what good the toe brings to the world is not for it's own personal gain or glory but for God and God alone (whether we attribute it to Him or not).

Helping a 14 year old understand this truth - that he is created, gifted, and loved for a purpose beyond the self-seeking admiration that the world can give isn't easy.  I'm not sure it ever gets easy for any of us. 

What reward, what praise, what admiration or accolades does the world give to the mother who paces the floor through the night, comforting a fussy baby, who makes sure there is food on the table, clean clothes on backs, who says yes to others a thousand times a day, and just as many times no to herself? 

For you, Benedict, what reward will the world ever give to you for the decision you make every single day to study with perseverance subjects that the smarter kids already have mastered, to shoot free throws until the sun goes down, or to practice your high jump form over and over again knowing that there will always be others who find the height you're trying to reach supremely easy?  

Nothing. The world will give you nothing.  But, the Lord will give you everything, every grace, every mercy, every blessing, because you give HIM everything when you keep trying, keep giving your best every single day, doing what you're meant to do, being who you are meant to be for the Body of Christ.  And the reward for that, which is heaven, cannot even begin to compare to any prize you could ever claim here on this earth.

I'll always believe that there is greatness in our children. What mother doesn't have such faith?! Benedict may surprise us all one day and become a stellar hoop star.  He may graduate at the top of his class, or even earn a scholarship for college (please, God, let it be that!).

But, if he doesn't experience any of those things, if he was indeed created to be the toe that gives balance, support and a quiet strength to the body, then I can only hope that Ben discovers along the path of life just as much joy and fulfillment in living the great purpose of his calling as he would if the world had ever considered him to be above average.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Support, Encourage, Pray ~ May is Lyme Awareness Month

Before we head into the weekend, I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU to each one of you who have so lovingly been praying for my husband, Steve, since he received his Lyme diagnosis over a year ago.  I cannot express just how much your support has encouraged us to keep going each and every day that we press on toward a cure for this terrible disease! Prayer warriors - keep 'em coming!!
Lyme disease is much more prevalent in this country than you might think.  Perhaps today you will encounter someone suffering from the disease and not even realize it.  Did you know that:

*Lyme disease is not a new illness. 
The first infection was described over 5,300 years ago.

* Lyme disease infects 300,000 people per year. 
That's 5,770 cases per week, and 822 cases per day!

* It is the FASTEST growing disease in the U.S.
(with more NEW cases each year than HIV, Colon Cancer or Breast Cancer)

On the outside, to most people, Steve looks like a normal, healthy father.  But, what you don't see is how Lyme is attacking his body on the inside, how his joints ache, his muscles twitch, his memory is failing, his head pulsates with vibrating frequencies and his entire being is completely exhausted from an inability to sleep soundly at night.
We've all seen pictures of the bulls-eye rash, that tell-tale sign that indicates one has been bitten by a tick. For those who discover the rash on their body, antibiotics can be immediately administered and the chance for healing is very positive. Unfortunately, not everyone who experiences a tick bite will develop the typical bulls-eye rash. In fact, fewer than 50% of those diagnosed with Lyme, develop the rash or even recall being bitten by a tick.

Because the Lyme bacteria can lie dormant in the body for long periods of time before becoming active, victims may not develop symptoms immediately after being bitten.  This was the case with Steve.

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, and finding a doctor who acknowledges the presence of Lyme in your state and is willing to help patients seek treatment for it can be even more difficult.  We have visited with dozens of doctors, some of whom believe Lyme is prevalent in our state and others who don't even believe it exists, which is crazy! (We personally know 5 different people in our little community who are suffering from chronic Lyme Disease!)

Because many of the disease's most debilitating symptoms mimic those of other illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue and other serious auto-immune disorders, patients are often misdiagnosed.
May is Lyme awareness month.  If you or someone you know has been suffering form any of the symptoms listed above and have been unable to find a successful diagnosis and treatment for those symptoms, PLEASE consider sharing with them about Lyme Disease.  We have spent countless hours researching Lyme disease online. As you know, the internet is a melting pot of good and bad information, and sorting through all of it has been quite a process. A few of the more reliable sources of information that we depend upon are listed below.

If you or someone you know is fighting the good fight against Lyme, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Don't give up!! We can beat this!!

You Can Get Better - Dr. Richard Horowitz