Pride and the virtual fall

My kids got me hooked on Dragonvale.

If you’re not as loaded with technology as we are, Dragonvale is an app game where you build your own dragon zoo, breeding new species and decorating the park in hopes of earning more money for visitors.

This is not a quality game. There’s a big push to make in-app purchases and use social media, not to mention the questions that come up around “breeding.” They learn nothing in this game. And now I’m unlearning with them. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

No, really. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

Technology has been a big topic of conversation in the house lately. M is in a school with a 1:1 iPad program from 3rd grade up. A program I have fought against every step of the way. A program which continues to go forward.

We finally got him his ipad, turned on all the restrictions, and sent him to school. He came home, day after day, unable to do the things asked because of these restrictions. We took it to the principal, who we nailed to the wall: “Are you saying you have a system where my eight year old needs access to Google in order to do his class work?” Yes, that’s exactly what he was saying. And if we didn’t like the school we chose, we were welcome to go to another one.

Except we weren’t the ones who chose it.

God directed us to our home. God laid public school on our hearts. And despite my ipad-loathing prayers, God continues to keep us in the system.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Walking humbly–by accepting the path God is leading you on without pushing your own agenda.

Okay, so I needed to take myself down a notch. If God wanted us here, there’s a reason. My pride was keeping me from seeing it, keeping me from acting justly or loving mercy.

Maybe I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I shouldn’t fight so much until I do.

I’m not saying I should be a doormat. But I was so quick to take up my arms that I KNOW I wasn’t acting justly or loving mercy. I wasn’t even interested in walking where God led, humbly or otherwise.

As a consequence, I was missing the good. God is good, all the time, even when I see anything but.

Take Dragonvale. On the surface, there was nothing good. My heart overflowed with guilt for encouraging my children to play. But then I stepped back. With my agenda out of the way, I started seeing the good.

The kids were getting to teach me something, and getting self esteem from that. We could talk about different aspects of the game, building bonds of communication. Even things like in-app purchases and social media (which are disabled for them) brought conversations about how apps work, how media works, and how careful and critical we need to be. Yes, I’m a grown woman playing Dragonvale. But I’m also a mom who isn’t above getting down on the virtual floor with my kids. A mom willing to see that there might be good I’m too busy protesting to notice.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalms 27:13)

Even in Dragonvale, iPads, and everything in between. That’s not to say the battle’s over–God demands that we have standards for our children, and that we defend what’s right. But before I battle again, I’m retreating. I’m praying, I’m giving thanks, I’m clothing myself in humility. Because I have a feeling that my poor son being in the prinicipal’s office, singled out and unable to do his work, wasn’t the result of my acting justly or loving mercy. When I battle again, I want to know the Lord is on my side, so that I may see the good and share it as well.

All good things require some strength

They were so excited. A new teacher, a new class, a new year, plus all their old friends.

I clung to summer.

2am found me still awake, crying. Just one more day, Lord. One more week. Forever. 6am came anyway, with youthful giddiness and packed backpacks and chocolate chip bagels. My babies so big, so ready.

It feels like I’ve pulled my heart from my chest and sent it off with them.

I know the plan God has for us. I know it means being in the local school, ministering to our community in the process. I know keeping them home would be self-seeking. But I want to anyway. I pray for forgiveness, for a new focus, for hands willing to take what God has for them, instead of holding on to what I must let go.

It was such a great summer. Breathtaking! We had so much, with such a great balance of friends and family, of staying home and going out. We built and rebuilt Legos, forts, obstacle courses. We swam and swam and swam. We went to the park, the beach, Nickel City, the movies. We experimented with Mentos and cookie dough and moon sand (though not all at once).

These babies of mine, they’re at such a sweet age. They’re tall, responsible, opinionated. They’re losing interest in picture books and toddler programming, but they’re also discovering new foods and books and skills. K has mastered the cartwheel and is now working on doing them one-handed. M nearly has the lay-up. We tried our first summer camp–a half day karate camp for M–and he was beyond bummed we hadn’t signed up for a second week. And yet they are still young–still pretending stuffed animals are real and Orbeez are pets and making up restaurants and art shops and letters for us. They still reach for my hands, still hug me with abandon.

Maybe I’m holding this moment so tight because I know how soon it will be gone.

As I wrote M a note for his lunch, I wondered if he’d be embarrassed yet. If there was something I would say that would make him blush, sitting at the table with his friends. As I said goodbye to him this morning, I wondered how affectionate to be. Yes, I know he’s still young, but I want to respect his maturation as well. I don’t want to hold on so tightly that they aren’t free to grow.

This conscientiousness, this is how I know I’ll be alright.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved our summer, as much as I treasure my sweet babies, I want even more to see them walk the path God has for them, and that takes me walking the path God has for me. With tears, sometimes, but with joy as well, even if I have to choose it sometimes instead of it coming naturally. And the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10), on all days but especially ones like these.

Choose joy. Find strength. Use that strength to choose joy again and again and again. Praise Jesus for a cycle so divine.

Less Expectations

A while back, I posted about the opportunities with which I was wrestling, and the conviction that God wanted me to pursue all of them. All of them. Ahem.

After my initial shock faded, excitement built. This would be my time to shine. I would create my own cottage cake company! I would run a business! I was blessed in this by the hand of God! He would teach me about trusting Him, about dreaming big, about taking risks and reaping the rewards!

In retrospect, I might have jumped the gun there.

I printed out all my paperwork, got insurance quotes, and designed business cards. As I waited to file, wanting to extend my license as long as possible, I started on the cake, the cake that would launch my new career.

The cake did not go as planned.

For the next three weeks, I struggled to make any of the fondant figures for which I was being paid. They came together. They fell apart. I repaired them, recreated them, redesigned them. Over and over again. What I had assumed I was gifted in–what I assumed I was meant to do–was not on God’s agenda. Instead, I finished the cake by dragging myself across the line. Then I threw out what I’d expected God to teach me through this experience–like how amazing and blessed my cake career would be–and instead humbled myself by understanding and accepting my limitations.

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (John 6:45)

I get that God is always teaching me something, and that being taught is an important part of growing closer to Him. But sometimes this feels like signing up for a college course entitled “Jane Austen” and arriving to a syllabus full of Austen’s letters and none of her books. Nothing wrong there, but that sure wasn’t what I had in mind. I struggle to untangle my own expectations from my original desire to live, love, and do as God would have me. I just get so attached to those expectations.

In the meantime, I’ve continued on other paths, the most heavily traveled one being my ministry at the school. My new role in the PTA has sparked a real passion in my heart, and opened my eyes to some ways in which my personality was holding me back. Or maybe I’d gotten my conception of my personality tangled up in the person God actually created? I’m sensing a theme here.

Still, it’s tough: the changing of expectations, the loss and readjustment, the humbling of the self. I think it’s meant to be that way.

“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord…and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.” (2 Kings 22:19)

The toughness certainly feels like tearing of robes, and it certainly included weeping. But just as my listening to God brings us closer, my struggle through the process also bonds us. Sure, I wish that it could be easier, but easier isn’t always right. And the bottom line is that I’m always interested in what’s right, because that is what God wants for me, and his plans are guaranteed to prosper me. My plans don’t come with any guarantee at all.

I challenge myself with this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). I want that good life, that Godly life, that wisdom–even more than I wanted to that cake business. In fact, just this morning I was praying about our summer: “Please help us make the most of it.” And then it struck me. I scratched out “the” and wrote instead:

Please help me make YOUR most of it.

Not just with my summer, but also with my life. And if that’s crappy fondant zombies, so be it. If that’s good enough for the creator of the universe, then it’s good enough for me.

Be THAT mom

There’s a mom at our school. Almost all the moms know her. She’s THAT mom. You know, the one who does everything, and does it with style. She’s room mom for both kids, cub scout mom and Daisy troop leader. She works in the science lab, the arts program, the PTA. She dresses up in cool costumes for Halloween, organizes elaborate games for every kid at the park, and goes down the slip and slide at the water play date she sets up at her house. Always cheerful, always engaging, always attracting small children like the pied piper. In her spare time (ha ha), she teaches spinning classes, runs full-length Ironman triathlons, and runs a minimum of ten miles per day.

She’s THAT mom.

I truly appreciate her deeply, but it took me a while to get to that spot. At first I could only feel intimidated by her, envious of her energy, jealous that she seemed to do everything and with more grace than I could ever imagine. But as I’ve gotten to know her, I see that she’s gifted in particular areas–but not in everything. And I’ve watched my children, among others, sometimes drift away from her exuberance, as though she was slightly more than they could handle.

I’ve also realized that I have my own gifts too.

When I take the kids at school in the morning, I often play tag. It’s a great way to stay warm, plus I’ve got early morning energy and exercise clothes on to boot. The kids love it, and it allows me to engage not only with them but with their classmates. “You’re going to turn into THAT mom,” one friend warned me, and shortly thereafter one of the other parents said as we lined up after tag, “Thank you!” with an apologetic face that said what I had once thought: thank you for being THAT mom.

Oh no. No, no, no. What I had realized was that I already was THAT mom. I’m the mom God knew my kids needed. I will NEVER (and I rarely use that word but of this I am certain) run an Ironman. I’m not planning on teaching spinning or leading Daisies, either. But I’m good with kids, quiet and a little funny. I make awesome breads and baked goods, and I’m always up for a board or card or video game. Birthday cakes get decorated exactly and as elaborately as desired. I plan our weekends so we go out for ice cream at least once, and I’m usually eager to fill any arts and crafts whim. And on some cold mornings, I’m good for a game of tag. I’m THAT mom. The one my kids need. That’s me. And that’s every other mom out there too.

The one who warned me? She’s got the gift of art like nobody’s business, plus she’s a stellar Christian example to her kids. She also has no qualms with serving nutella for dinner or chicken nuggets on tortillas. She’s THAT mom. And the one who thanked me? She’s the mom who pulls her kids to school in the wagon every morning. Going to school is so much more fun in a wagon!

We all have our gifts, and while some seem more obvious–and enviable–than others, our kids were given to us accordingly. They need our gifts, not anyone else’s. Instead of focusing on what others have and what we lack, let’s choose to be the best mom we can, whatever that looks like. THAT mom, she’s the one you need to appreciate.

School matters

There’s a lot of things I don’t love about public school. The work often doesn’t quite fit my kids, or they learn about Justin Bieber by osmosis. The dynamics of a full class (anywhere between 24-28 students) is trying, and I worry they’ll suffer from the same test anxiety and bullied self-worth with which I’ve struggled my whole life.

But this week I watched three teachers and the principal carry a screaming child to the front office, gently protecting her and themselves from her flailing limbs, constantly repeating reassurances. I know from experience that this particular child has frequent episodes like this, and I’ve seen her treated on each occasion with the same patient loving kindness.

Regardless of my issues, these teachers work their butts off. They put out the same emotional energy I spend on my two kids every day, 24-28 times over. I feel so blessed that God has led me into public school, that I can minister to these hardworking, amazing people, and I pray that whatever challenges my kids might face, that they will pale in comparison to the value they gain from supporting a system that supports our whole community.

(Dis)Honorary member

Me: What’d you play at recess?
K: Girls club.
Me: What do you do in girls club?
K: We just stand around and talk.

K is five. Five. She should be doing the monkey bars and playing in the sand. But this is what happens when little girls have older little girls around them, little girls who already know more about Katy Perry than I do. And so began the conversation about actually playing on the playground and including everyone in clubs (as one who was not part of the clubs growing up, I’m especially sensitive on this subject). Followed by prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. We’ve still got quite a few years ahead of us.

What you get when you mix Legos and Monopoly in complete silence

My baby girl–my baby girl–started kindergarten this week. She was prepared in every sense of the word, having seen her brother start two years earlier, having made friends with siblings and teachers and classmates who followed from preschool, having learned to add and read and draw on her own. M, who was not thrilled when he started kindergarten two years ago, bounced off to his class with barely a glance back. He’s in that sweet spot where the joy of being with friends outweighs the work spread around it.

I was fine. What I mean to say is that I held together my little breaking lonely heart with positive encouragement for the kids. All of which worked remarkably well, until I came home to this:

And it hit me: the silence. Toys left in mid-play, the evidence of a summer well-spent. It was such a lovely summer, and a lovely seven years. It may have passed too quickly, with never enough time to enjoy it fully. But I know that I tried. I didn’t rush ahead, I didn’t wish for it to be over, or next, or different. If I wished, it was for time to slow or still. Instead, I enjoyed it as much as possible. Now it’s time to walk with the confidence my kids showed this week toward whatever new purposes God has planned for me. And of course, the old purposes of Lego building and Monopoly playing. Praise Jesus, for now I can have them both.