Can You Oversell Heaven?

Have you ever had one of those conversations with your children…you know, the hard ones?  The ones where your little girl or boy, curled up in fleecy jammies, speaks oceans of truth in words formed by those little lips you kiss at bedtime?  And you wonder…can I shape this heart and mind?  Can I answer as Christ?  I had one of those moments just yesterday.  And the deep conversation teased out a childlike desire to “just go to heaven”.  The moment was piercing, and my heart drained out blood instead of words, and I felt caught between the truth of heaven and the truth of earth.

Because life is hard.  It is hard when you are eight, eighteen, eighty.  And when we start to forget the iron-clad difficulties of earthly bodies filled with desires and emotions and physical pain, we are drawn back to that flame in these moments.  Moments when a child says the thought that has run through your head but not across your lips. Then she says it.  And it sounds grotesque..a death wish.  But in her mind, she sees God.  She feels a warm breeze and sees a beautiful landscape.  She escapes thoughts of friendlessness, sorrow, and deep weariness that sometimes flood in at late hours staring at a dark ceiling thinking about Monday.  She pictures heaven in just the innocent way I want her to…as a glorious ending to an often painful life.

And I, I don’t want to snuff that spark of curiosity and desire, but I also want to reveal some sort of beautiful revelation of God in the fractured reality of the world.  So I sit, silently, my mind balancing two realities that I’m not sure answer the unasked question of purpose.  Can I convince her that pain is necessary for growth?  Is it possible for her to understand that friends now will become strangers not too many years from now?  Will she understand that her life is necessary to God’s bigger plan? And if I cannot convince my own daughter of the worth of life in Christ before the reward of heaven, can I convince a general public lost in despair?  I falter to find an answer.

God is here in our moments, but we often feel alone.  He is overseeing the world, but we often feel lost.  He is saving us, but we are not always rescued from earthly pain.  Heaven sounds like a reprieve.  Revelations reiterates His promise to “wipe every tear from our eye. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (21:4).  He reminds us that we will be, in the realest sense “His children” (Revelations 21:7).  But part of the beauty of heaven comes from the reality of earth.  Before we are called His children, we are reminded that “those who are victorious will inherit all this” (Revelations 21:7).  Matthew warns us that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14) and John adds that we “know the way to the place I [God] am going” (John 14:4).  If the prize is Heaven, the race is life.  If the return is eternal life, the investment is earthly surrender.  After John tells us we know how to get to heaven, he reminds us that God has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). In Psalms, we are told that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (46:1).  And Timothy encourages us that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).  heaven2The Bible is full of reminders that God IS with us in the moment.  And that is what I want to dwell on, what I want my children to cling to, when the feelings in our tiny hearts are overwhelming our knowledge of Truth.  I don’t think the beauty of Heaven can be oversold.  But I am afraid that I have been underselling the power of Christ dwelling in us.  And therein lies my work with my children and the rest of the world.  Emmanuel. God with us.  Do not fear.

Is the Era of Friendship Over?

I know that I had friends growing up.  I remember in some middle grade of elementary school that my neighbor girl and I, along with a variety of other friends, would sneak small stuffed animals out onto the playground where, under the single large tree in the far corner, we would play with the carefree camaraderie that colors youth.  We would sleep over at each other’s houses and spend the mornings mastering curled bangs.  In the neighborhood, we would roll up in blankets and careen down hills, or plan elaborate dance performances on one of our concrete patios. Let’s face it.  There wasn’t much else to do or worry about in the mid-1980s in suburban America, and if we went home, we would likely be assigned some dreaded chore.

Suddenly, though, I am watching my elementary girls talk less and less about their girlfriends at school, or worse, claim to have no friends at all.  Kids clump together on the playground, but many don’t understand my eldest’s penchant for pretend or my middle’s powerful personality.  When I ask what they do out there, my girls claim- not much.  Where is the carefree play I remember?  And without it, where are the simple bonds of friendship that make elementary school memories?

It would be easy to blame technology.  Kids are separated by devices so much that they forget how to forge face-to-face friendships. They can talk endlessly on online games like Minecraft, but have nothing to say at a lunch table.  They can compare their clothes, toys, bodies, hair to all of the images that inundate them, and then compare those to each other.  Yes, I could blame this technological era.  I could blame schedules.  One- and two-parent homes working day after day without time to run students for playdates.  Practices, games, and appointments crowding out fun in the calendar.  I could blame all forms of shifts in culture that lead to aloneness.  But no matter the reason, I believe our kids today are missing out on the simple importance of friendship, and I want to help them find it.

I can’t police playground politics or create cafeteria conversations that are inclusive, not exclusive.  I can’t force playdates or group activities to which these kiddos may or may not come.  So what can I do?

I could start by being a better friend.  Not a Facebook-stalking, infrequent-texting type of friend, but a true, old-school friend.  Why don’t I invite my friends (and their kids) over for coffee on the back porch after school?  Why don’t I make those phone calls I remember my mom making that lasted forever and were full of interruptions, but that seemed to make her so happy in the middle of the monotony of the everyday?  Why don’t I attend groups, Bible studies, book clubs, anything to forge true conversation and connection?  As I question myself here, I can see that I, and others who are part of this middle-age parenting club, have changed the friendship scenery for ourselves, and therefore, changed that scenery for our little ones, too.

wordswag_1475990750046I can focus on things I can’t control, or I can start with one, or more, of these. Admittedly, I do many things with my kids.  I keep them busy. We find fun, but I am not always good about finding friends.  I am hesitant to invite over kids I don’t know, because I don’t know how their families feel about playdates, rules, snacks, and the list goes on.  Because of our busy schedules, free time is usually a last-minute luxury, and other families are not always available in those spur-of-the-moment situations.  I have listed here for my own benefit and hopefully yours a list of ways that we can help nurture friendship within our children:

MODEL FRIENDSHIP:  As I said above, we have rewritten the rules of friendship due to social media. With the exception of my sister, who I call every day after school, I rarely talk to friends on the phone or in person.  We do get together with other families sometimes (not enough), but I am not great about asking a friend to just stop by.  I text, or send notes, but I am not necessarily showing my kids by example how to be a good friend or even how to make friends.  And while it is not my natural bent to stand in the pick-up line at school and make small talk, maybe me reaching out to other school moms is just what my kids need to see when they leave those school doors.

FIND FRIENDS:  One thing I am going to vow to do this year is to find opportunities, outside of school and sports, to plan events with friends.  Simple things, like cookie decorating, backyard bonfires, and game nights, are all opportunities to invite over a friend or two for the girls to forge relationships and create memories.

PRACTICE PLAY: It is clear from some of those playground situations that many kiddos just don’t know how to play outside of structured sports or technology screens.  My own children are great pretenders, but admittedly, that is my greatest weakness as a mom of littles…I don’t pretend very well.  I start playing backyard veterinarian, but I am quickly bored of all the scenarios we act out.  Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have some neighbor kids who love to play pretend with the girls.  They often involve costumes and elaborate story lines.  It is good to watch these interactions from nearby, and when the kids reach an impasse of opinion, I can offer a voice of reason in the fray.  I can also guide their time to be sure they are able to balance everyone’s ideas as well as divide up outside play versus inside play, toys versus technology.  Most importantly, parents, is to leave time every day for this practice.  Our time is after school until before dinner; we do evening events and sports and errands, but I try to keep that magical hour or two just for the kids to play.

ENCOURAGE INCLUSION:  Don’t we all know how hard it is to feel excluded and yet, we can also admit that we can be exclusive?  Kids are naturally drawn to certain friends or away from others.  Sometimes, other students are not particularly nice to your own.  But I am raised from a perspective of “killing with kindness”, and I think it is an important trait to pass on to my kids.  I tell the girls repeatedly that they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but they do have to be nice to everyone.  If someone asks to play, you find a role for him or her.  One of my daughters came home this week saying that when she approached a gaggle of girls on the playground, they simply turned and walked away.  How heartbreaking as a mom to hear this.  It goes against my constant reminders to her to play with everyone, to accept kids who are different or even at times frustrating. If all students were inclusive, we wouldn’t need buddy benches at school to force children to play together.

I am not a terribly nostalgic person, but I do long for simpler times playing underneath trees.  I want my children to be good friends and have good friends.  I don’t want my girls, or anyone else’s, swinging alone on the playground watching life from the sidelines. Most of all, I want humanity to desire the connection of friendship and to foster it for future generations.

I Dreamt of You

In the mess and rush of the first week of school, between questions about classes and miles of to-dos, the query pushes through the mundane dirt- Did you dream of me?  Of us? Of children filling your house, your life, with grubby-covered shouts and little mismatched socks?

A desperate glance at my husband’s bewildered face followed by a feeble answer, a Get Out of Jail Free yellow slip: Of course I dreamt of you….I wanted each of you. Then the conversation-ender: Then why do you seem so unhappy?

I am not unhappy, I argue…in spite of a husband’s unexpected traveling and a job that is demanding more of my day, I feel strong, calm, satisfied.  I’m soldiering through and still (mostly) smiling.  But somehow, those smiles must curve inward while the stress of reality bristles out off my body like a protective vest holding you at arm’s length.

So, daughter, I will try to explain. Dreams are funny things. Sometimes they begin or end in the middle, sometimes they morph into nightmares of known, or unknown, threats. I feel the weight of complication in the word Dream. I dreamed of marrying my first love, but in the middle of the dream were nightmarish realities of alcohol and struggle. Still, the dream is more vivid in the wake of those shadows. I dreamed of teaching literature, but sometimes the days feel like the depths of sleep, a stone instead of a kite. I dreamed of children, of sweet round-faced babies wrapped in pastel flannel. I was jarred awake by preschool tantrums and inconsolable feelings, and I fumbled in the darkness of parenting unknowns.

I have dreamed many dreams, Child. So much of what I hoped for has come true, dreams that meld into the fullness of reality beyond my comprehension.  But real life also forces acceptance of the underside of dreams.  The cost of being brave enough to dream boldly is the strain of holding the weight of the accumulated pieces of sleepless hope and daunting truth. In my dreams, I saw you. In my reality, I see the responsibility of raising you. In my dreams, I saw fulfilling, life-affirming work. In the daylight, I see reams of paper. The nightmarish fear sometimes clouds the dreamy wonder, and I am frightened by this unknown world of nebulous desires taking shape in realities I could never have guessed.

My imagination cannot hold you, little one. You are beyond a dream. My life is beyond a dream.  I could not have pieced together my heart’s desires at 8, 15, 21 to build a life that looks as beautiful as this life I live.  But beauty is different than perfection.  I feel stress heavily sometimes, I forget an appointment, I fill your lunchbox with stale wafer cookies instead of fresh-baked chocolate chip. I cannot explain that reality to an eight-year old idealism. I want you to dream, too.  In your dreams, you can envision perfect pancake mornings and lullaby goodnights without the worry of washing pans or singing off-key.  And someday, when you are a 30-something, those dreams will stand fulfilled in expected and unexpected ways, and in the messy moments when a little voice speaks into your heart, “Are you happy?”, you will answer with a confident “Yes” in spite of, even because of, the moments of stress and heartache.  Keep dreaming, sweet child, in the confidence that you yourself are a dream realized, a hope become flesh.

On Becoming…

I was driven by a quiet desperation,
a desire formed out of worthlessness,
to become more.
Discontented to be
whatever was in the moment-
if I was a masterpiece,I was
To become successful
was the world’s message;
to become independent,
wealthy, known.
I accumulated accolades,
piled pennies,
climbed into coats of whatever
I decided would make me become
something more than I was
in the mirror.
Until one day,
the Spirit spoke,
“You are mine,
and I will finish the work.”
I opened my hands,
letting fall the tools
I held so tightly before.
I breathed in the moment,
I saw who I was, Whose I was,
and I was satisfied.
Never before had my own effort to become
Felt so