Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflections on 2018

What a year!  I've probably said that at some point during the last week of every year.  Sometimes in joy, sometimes in relief that it's almost over.  But, as someone who likes a good do-over, always in anticipation of what's to come.

This has been a bittersweet one for me.  The older I get, the more I use that word--bittersweet.  There just isn't a lot of black and white.  And while it's been one of the most inconsistent blogging years for me, I have had more thoughts than I could find words for.  It's also been a surprising one for me.  As I scroll through my camera roll, there are many more good things than I would have thought based on how my year started.

As you probably know, I had to say goodbye to my dad at the beginning of January. I've had a full year of "firsts" without him.  What I've realized is that the actual day--Father's Day, his birthday (which also fell on Thanksgiving),  Christmas--weren't as bad as I was dreading them to be.  It has actually been the other random days like my daughter's bday when he didn't post on facebook or my niece's graduation where I kept feeling like someone was missing and caught myself looking for him in the crowds--that have been the hard ones.
With his death, I worried it would be a miserable year full of grieving and sadness.  And those emotions have definitely been present more than in years past.  And honestly, it's been one of the hardest parenting years for me.  There are SO MANY things our kids have to deal with today that we didn't have at their age.  When your kids turn into teens, you can't post about the things you struggle with like you could when they were little, so it feels lonely.  One of the biggest surprises for me was hearing so many friends' stories about their own parenting struggles--people I would have never suspected had anything but happy, content kids based on what I see on the outside. It's been reassuring to know there are others navigating the best they can and just praying our kids don't end up in therapy for too long (I've already accepted the fact that mine will sit in an office and tell stories of things their crazy mom said and did that scarred them for life).

Despite the hard, there have been some sweet times too.  Here's a recap of a few of them:

I got to see my brother and his family more this year than I have since they moved to New York several years ago.  I love seeing the beautiful hearts my nieces have and getting to be able to share the joy of their new business venture--from a simple idea last December to a full-blown Mercantile with amazing artists and craftsman that opened up in November.

I spent my birthday picking strawberries at a local farm with a dear friend.  

Another dear friend's daughter was married and we got to take a little road trip to celebrate with her (and I got to see 2 of my favorite people in the world!).

Granny turned 100 and while there was no polka dancing at the party, she still managed to dance on her porch with our family and make sure she had the last word at her party (when you're 100, you pretty much can say whatever you want!).  

I took my first trip to upstate New York for Kalyssa's graduation and not only got to see her walk the stage and be embarrassed by how loud we were, I got to experience cold weather in June--it was freezing outside at night (we barely freeze in December here in Texas).  This was a surprise trip for me that was a gift from my stepmom so it was extra special.

Willow continues to be a source of joy for our whole family.  She's rotten to the core, but her personality has been such a lifesaver for us and lightened the mood on many days.  Brian still calls her his favorite daughter and threatens to get 5 more like her.  I tell him "No way!" but secretly, I  hope we do.  

Tioga--Hope and Caroline's school district--opened up a brand new high school.  There's something so wonderful about a small town where the superintendent prays at the dedication and sits outside the door every day greeting the students that makes me sigh with contentment.  I love that the staff knows my kids and they are not just a number.

We went to the State Fair for the 1st time in forever and I ate myself sick--literally.  I *might* be too old to taste everything and my family did not enjoy the selfies I insisted on taking with all the food (but my dad would have loved it!)

Caroline is now a freshman and we no longer have to deal with middle school--WAHOOO!!! (Plus she made a really cute costume for herself for Halloween!)

Hope got her license and first car!!  This has been a game changer for me as she is now the designated school driver and I don't have to make the trek every day.

I got to work for Lovepacs for a portion of the year and while I always knew the community leaders were amazing, I got to see them in action behind the scenes and was so stinkin proud to call them my friends. Y'all!  Almost every one of them has a full time job and yet they manage to mobilize their communities to feed thousands of students!

 Getting to meet Bob Goff at our staff Christmas party was a huge highlight--my cheeks hurt from smiling so much at the end of that day.

I set a goal to find and record 2018 things to be thankful for in 2018 and I did it!!!  I finished my last one tonight!   I tried this in 2017 and fell short--I had a pretty journal I had bought and had high hopes.  This last year, I used a little notebook that was given to me that didn't even have enough pages in it, so it has several extra pages folded up in the back with the last few hundred things listed.  I can't wait to do this again in 2019!

One of the things that has brought me the most joy this year has been one I don't even think I've posted about.  After an 18 month break from kids ministry, I started serving as a small group leader at my church this past spring for 1st -3rd graders and then moved over to our 4th-5th grade room.  I can't adequately explain how much we love Cross Timbers--we've been there for over 2 years now and I keep waiting for the newness to wear off, but it hasn't yet.  In the midst of serving, God brought something back to life inside me that I truly thought was gone AND He made a way for me to go on staff at Cross Timbers!!!  I've been in my role since Nov. 1st and absolutely love it!  I got to work with some of the very best kids min leaders at Bent Tree so I was a bit worried that I would be disappointed by any others.  It's different, but oh, so good!  Getting to build teams again just makes my heart sing!  This has been one of those "Could God REALLY be this good moments for me this year.

In the midst of grief and depression and struggles, God made something beautiful.  It has been one of the hardest years, but also one of the best. I'm looking forward to diving into 2019 and being a part of where He is at work.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

And if Not, Is He Still Good?

We see the posts on facebook and hear them all the time when good things happen; "God is good!"  And yes, when things go well, it feels like His face is shining down on us.

But what does it mean when things DON'T go the way we want them?  When we lose the game or the the girl or the job?  Or get the diagnosis we prayed against?  Do we believe He is still good?

I know we say we do.

But none of us really want to find out if we would believe that because we don't want to face the hard stuff.

But it DOES come, and when it does, do we take it as a sign that God has forgotten us?  Or that He is punishing us?

Or do we STILL believe that He is good, even if...?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What's Love(pacs) Got to Do With It?

 It's North Texas Giving Day and all week I've been contemplating what words I could write that would convince my friends to support Lovepacs when they have so many amazing organizations they could choose to give their money and time to. 

If you've been around me at all the past 10 years, you already know how much Lovepacs means to me.  You've probably heard the stories of how Lovepacs started with 6 kids in The Colony and has grown to over 5700 in 10 different cities/communities.  You've probably heard the statistics that 1 in 4 kids in Texas is food-insecure.  You've probably heard my fishes and loves stories of how food has multiplied.  You may have even heard that over 95% of donations have gone directly to food for kids over the past 7 years. 

Here are some of the stories I haven't told:

When we deliver Lovepacs, at least 1 school (usually more) has a parent waiting for the boxes to arrive.  And I will admit that I wish I had extra to give them.  We typically deliver a few days before the break and I worry that their food will be gone and they will still have nothing to eat when school is out.

At a food drive, one of our volunteers was approached by a high schooler who worked at that business.  She was crying and thanking our volunteer for what she was doing.  As they talked for a minute, the student shared that she and her siblings had been recipients of Lovepacs and they had made a difference for them.  This sweet girl worked--not to buy clothes and make-up or pay car payments--but to  help support her family.  The thought that Lovepacs was able to serve her still makes me cry today.

Right now, I am worried about the 1400 kids that were fed in Plano last year because we don't have a leader for that community any more and the need is HUGE. 

As a whole, Lovepacs has not done a great job of marketing.  We know we are behind on this.  Here's why: Lovepacs is almost exclusively volunteer-run.  A few years ago--after opening our 8th community--we hired a bookkeeper.  This past spring, I was hired for a part time role to help support our current leaders.  We have not spent the money marketing that we probably should have, but the need for Lovepacs grows every year. 

Right after Lovepacs began, my daughter noticed a kid with shoes that were duct-taped and stapled to keep them together.  This past year, my other daughter overheard a conversation from a kid asking another kid who worked at a fast food place if he could save some food for them because they were out of money.  My girls probably won't talk about Lovepacs (and they were plenty embarrassed when we turned our dining room into a food pantry and had to explain to all their friends that we were not hoarders), but their eyes have been opened to need around them and I believe they will be better humans because of it.

Since Lovepacs are anonymous and go through the school counselors, I often wonder of the impact.  I think of that scene in The Hunger Games where Peta throws Katniss a loaf of burned bread.  That bread came at a point when she had given up and served to give her hope--which eventually led to entire nations being changed.  Yes, I know it's a fictional story, but I truly believe that a box of food could change a child's trajectory in life.

Just because a city seems wealthy, doesn't mean everyone who lives there is.  Our biggest Lovepacs needs currently come from Frisco and Plano.  This is what hits me the most.  For every 4 kids you know, 1 doesn't have enough food. Food is a basic need.  No child should ever have to wonder if they will eat that day.  And the thought of it happening down the street from me grieves me beyond words. 

Giving to Lovepacs today means that your dollars are matched and go further.  You can donate to an individual community or to the general fund which will be divided among all our communities. Thanks in advance for not only caring about the kids in your community, but for doing something that will tangibly help them.

Monday, September 17, 2018

When our Kids Choose Their Own Way

I remember my brother telling me about a conversation he had with my dad several years ago.  The gist was my dad was disappointed that none of his kids followed in his footsteps because we attended different types of churches than him.  My brother pointed out that we actually HAD followed in his steps--2 of us were on staff at our respective churches at that time.

When Brandon told me about the conversation, I felt disappointed.  The church I worked for had more things in common with the one I grew up in than it had differences and I wished my dad saw that.  Although we never had a direct conversation about it, I think he came to understand this before he died.

We had a similar situation on the other side of the family.  We disappointed a sweet grandmother because we did not have a priest perform our marriage ceremony and we didn't baptize our girls as babies. 

I have 2 high schoolers now.  They have found a spots in small groups--each at different churches--and neither are the one we attend on Sundays.  I won't lie and say I haven't had issues with that and tried to influence them with bribery to attend ours.  Or that I don't get a little bit jealous when I see families all in sync with what they believe and how they express that belief. 

And the ironic thing about these churches?  Both of them are very similar to the one I grew up in.  And both are filled with people who love and pray for my girls.  So when I start the arguments in my head to try to "sell" my church to them, I am reminded of that conversation between Dad and Brandon and Brian and Granny.  And part of me is proud--that I have daughters who know what they want and won't be persuaded to settle for something different.  And another part of me is shocked that I am not quite as flexible as I would like to believe.

And through it all, I can choose to focus on our differences or I can remember that we have more in common than not.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Memories of a Strawberry Milkshake

Its strange the things that bring back memories.

I took the girls to Sonic tonight for a treat after a loooonnnng week.  I ordered a strawberry shake. 

When I was in middle school, we lived out in a spot that was far from any fast food places.  Even back then, my dad was the best at finding the best desserts.  There was a Sonic that had strawberry shakes that were amazing, but it was 20 minutes away from our house.  The strawberries in them were huge and always clogged our straws.  We didn't go often, but when we did it was a treat.

I couldn't tell you the last time I had a strawberry shake before tonight--I guarantee I've had several since middle school. But for some reason, the last one I remember having was with him.  And I still remember his smile as we got spoons to eat all the strawberries in the bottom after we finished drinking the shake. 

It's the little things that stop me in my tracks. Maybe because I prepare myself for the big ones (his birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year so I'm already gearing myself up for THAT one).

A few weeks ago,  I had to cross his name off the girls school forms as an emergency contact and let's just say I don't want to have to do that again.  There's no words to describe the finality of marking through a name of someone you love and knowing you will never again put him on an emergency contact list. 

A friend posted on FB tonight that they had to call in hospice for her loved one and it took me back to the amazing hospice people we had for Dad. (It also made me giggle because I remembered my dad trying to keep the fact that hospice was called in from us when my sisters were already at the house meeting the people delivering the bed.) It also brought up a fresh wave of grief. 

Just like most everything else in life, it's the little things that affect us the most.  It's the stuff we don't think will matter--the small steps in one direction that end up taking us down a new path or the seemingly inconsequential choices that move us to something we never expected. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Time I Thought I was Administrative

Years ago--14 to be exact--I applied for a job at a church.

Let me explain something...I NEVER planned to work at a church.  I was not angry toward God or anything, I wasn't against the church, I just didn't see myself in a role like that.

I had volunteered at this particular church for 7 years before applying for a job.  I had been through a few Kids Pastors and several staff and frankly, was a little frustrated by the direction things were going, so we decided to look for a new church.  Instead, as I started having conversations, I ended up on staff--isn't that the best answer--dive into the deep end?

The role I applied and was hired for was an administrative one, working with the Volunteer Director.  In fact, a huge part of why I wanted the job was because of the lady who would be my boss--Bobbi Miller.  Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but when I met with Bobbi the first time, I was actually more drawn to her than to the role itself.  Not only did she have this amazing vision for what Kids ministry could be, she was a mom who had kids a few years older than me.  My girls were 2 and 4 at the time and I was desperate to find someone who could be a mentor to me since I didn't have a mom.

I was hired and even though there were others more qualified, I was given a chance.

One week later, Bobbi moved into the Kids Pastor role so her previous role--my immediate boss--was now open.  Honestly, that kinda rocked my world.  I signed on to work with Bobbi and even though I would still report up to her, it wouldn't necessarily be side by side.

The next big thing is that we completely changed the way we did ministry.  We switched to a "function" model rather than an age-based one.  What this meant on the practical level to me was that I was "losing" leaders to other parts of the ministry. And even though I understood it and believed it was the right thing to do, I was a little worried about how we were going to find people to serve when we already didn't have enough.

And, if that wasn't enough, we decided to give all of our people who had been serving the entire summer off.  I remember sitting at a forum with other large churches in the area and being told what  a mistake that was and that we would regret it when none of them returned.

This was all within the first month.  Flash forward a few months to summer...

It was my favorite!  My job was to communicate back and forth with people who had said they would serve one Sunday that summer (over 600 of them!!!) and place them in a role.  Most of this was done via email, but it's amazing what you learn about people if you go beyond just a "form" reply.  On Sundays, after they checked in to serve, I found myself giddy.  It was SO fun to put faces with names and be able to comment on little details they had told me. 

And I realized--I think for the very 1st time--how much I loved people.  I loved hearing their story, being included in their lives, but most of all, I loved getting to serve them.  I rolled/folded their serving t-shirts and prayed over them.  I helped to set up a cafe and picked fun snacks that I hoped would make them smile.  I learned their kids' and spouses and pets names. 

And through this whole time, we were still interviewing people to be my boss.  As I voiced my fears to Bobbi, I remember her asking me more than once if I wanted the job.

My answer was an emphatic "NO!"  I was not qualified.  There were parts of the role that were unfamiliar to me.  I'm a behind the scenes person.  I'm not a leader.  And the list of reasons why just snowballed. 

Finally, mid-summer, after an amazing experience with a kid at a camp our church was hosting, I plopped in Bobbi's office and asked, "What if I AM interested?"  We talked and prayed and I cried (bet that part's a surprise) and then walked next door into our executive pastor's office.  She told him what was going on (I was still a mess).  I will forever remember his question to me: "This role is hands on with people--and they are messy.  How does that make you feel?"

I wish I could remember my exact response, but it was something along the lines of, "I know.  Messy gets complicated.  But, is there anything better than getting to be on the front row watching God work in them--and if there were even a slight chance that I would get to be involved in some way in that process, how could I resist that? People are SO WORTH the mess!"

And despite the fact that once again I was not qualified for the role, I was hired in place of others who were. And I can honestly say, I have no regrets about ever stepping into that role--or any of the others it morphed into over the next 10 years. 

I can tell you story after story of individuals I got to know and love and serve during that time...

Shannon and Barb who said YES to coaching when we didn't  really know what that role meant and didn't even have teams to coach yet...

Chris who filled out an app to serve the day he turned 12 (the youngest age we allowed students to serve) and continued to serve until he left for college...

Beth who led a team to pray for a non-believer who served alongside them in one of our baby rooms...

Patty who followed me around one Sunday (in heels) to figure out where she wanted to serve and ended up on staff alongside me...

Jennifer who created a team that served breakfast to our leaders every week...

Barry who went beyond being a small group leader to being a resource for the parents--most of whom were single and doing it on their own--of the boys in his group...

Katherine & Savannah who spent Valentines night creating treats for their humongous small group of kids...

Paul & Mike & Trevor & Jared who made our Sandbox room a place where my own kids loved going (not to mention how their air guitar skills progressed)...

Tasha & Aaron who caught the vision of a room for leaders' kids and brought in bingo and prizes...

Christie and Becca who created the very 1st large group experience for our preschoolers...

I could go on and on here for at least another few pages, but this post has been long enough. 

Sometimes God shows us very clearly what our gifts are.  And sometimes, He surprises us and allows us to step into a place that feels uncomfortable at first so that we can fully trust in Him and allow HIM to do the work instead of doing it ourselves. 

This is what happened to me.  I was allowed to serve beside some of the greatest and can't help but laugh when I think about not stepping into the role because I thought I was too administrative...

Is there something God is whispering to you?  Some place He is asking you to push the boundaries?  A boat He's asking you to step out of?  Or into?  If so, it won't always be easy. And you may cry a few tears.  And hit your head against the wall once in a while. 

But it will be worth it.

I promise. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Pictures Don't Tell the REAL Story of the First Day of School

I like to plan memorable experiences.  I'm a bit (just a itty bitty tad-ha!) sappy and I like to plan scenarios in my head of meaningful interactions. A great first day of school starts with the night before.  Okay, actually, it should have started a few weeks ago, but the night before would still be good, right?

Here's how I would have liked the night before school to go:
  • Our family would sit down to a dinner that I cooked with everybody's favorites--including a yummy dessert.
  • We would have engaging conversation about what they were looking forward to and what they were nervous about.  
  • We would pray for Jesus to shine through the girls as they start a new year.
  • The girls would have their really cute 1st day of school outfits picked out
  • We'd have a quiet night and everybody would be in bed before 10pm
  • The fridge would already be stocked with all the stuff needed to make their lunches
Needless to say, that is NOT how it went.  

First of all, I work until 8pm on Tuesdays and I didn't cook dinner.  I think they picked up Rosas (but I only know they because I saw the container in the trash--I totally forgot to plan anything for them).  I don't even know if they ate together. I did hear that Hope went to give her boyfriend a piece of cheese from our fridge, but there was mold on it.  So there's that.

And then, Hope went to get some school supplies with her boyfriend because she realized she didn't have any paper.  Or pens and pencils.  And, by the way, the only shoes she has are jandles and riding boots.  Because we didn't order them until Monday night...So they won't  be here until Thursday..  Two days after school starts.  But hey, I did buy lunchboxes a few weeks ago and Mimi bought new backpacks for both girls. So we are winning in that category.

To add some excitement to the evening, my car decided not to start when I got off work.  So Brian came (did I mention it's a 40 min drive from my house to work??) and we went to get a new battery hoping that was the problem (we had already done this 3 nights before,).  Here's a PSA for you...Walmart at 9:30 the night before school starts is probably not gonna make your bucket list.

We finally arrived home @10:30pm with no car and now 2 batteries.  Brian had to work for another hour and I went through the fridge to make sure none of the other items I had planned on using to make lunches were moldy.  Sadly, the strawberries also decided to become a science experiment.  You might ask, "Why didn't you think of checking this earlier in the week?  I DID!  They weren't moldy then!

At this point, I was too tired to head out to the store, so I made my list and went to bed, praying that our 1st day of school traditions would go well.

I'll bet you know where this is headed, huh?

Contrary to what the pictures show, the first day of school was not full of smiles.

I woke up early to head to the store to replace the moldy cheese and strawberries and pick up an extra treat for their lunches.  I made the batter for the pancakes and decided I wouldn't cook the bacon in the microwave like normal.  I would fry it in a skillet on the stove--with the thought that the smell of bacon would put everyone in a good mood.

Let me back up for a minute.  I'm not the pancake maker in the house.  Caroline makes them from scratch (i.e. no Bisquick).  Brian uses Bisquick, but he makes fluffy, yummy pancakes.  They already cut their eyes at each other when I let them know I would pinch hit and make the pancakes this year since Brian was going out of town, so I knew I was fighting an uphill battle, but it was worth it to me.

Why pancakes, you ask?

Because, I am allowed 4 pics of my girls without complaining each year:  Christmas Eve jammies, Easter, 1st day of school and last day of school.  The 1st day of school pic includes one of them holding a plate with pancakes made in the grade #  they are starting that day.  I have very few things I am consistent on, but this is one of them.  I never took the cute pic of my girls with the same stuffed animal every month their first year.  I never took them to get professional pics on their bdays.  (It was all I could do to manage their yearly well-child visit and even those have been several months late at times).  This is my ONE THING, people!!!

Sooooo, back to the first day of school.  I was told I made the pancakes too early.  And they were flat.  And I don't have the skill with the pancake pen that Brian does so it took several tries to get 1s and 9s to be recognizable as such.  So they posed with the deformed #11 and #9, but neither one ate them.  Honestly, I didn't either.

One child was mad at me because I had asked her not to wear sweat pants on the 1st day, so she was wearing jeans and DID NOT CARE how she looked.  I was then told I drove too slow (because 1-2 miles over the speed limit is tortoise-paced) and that I slammed the brakes too hard.

I was "THAT" parent cheering as I zipped out of the parking lot immediately after they shut the car door (and *might* have locked the doors as fast as I could).  I didn't wait to make sure they got inside.  I got out of there as fast as I could and threw up a prayer for the teachers as I drove away.

So, when you see the pics of my girls smiling and holding their pancakes, just know there is much more going on behind the scenes and just because we took a 1st day of school pic in which said teens are smiling, doesn't mean that was the reality of our morning. 

We are all just a hot mess and one step away from disaster.  Some of us just cover it better than others.