Endings and Beginnings and a Mama’s Heart at Graduation

This weekend found me in the basement digging through old pictures with tears in my eyes, gathering snapshots of Luke’s life to display at his graduation open house. I’m not sad that he’s graduating (he is SO ready to be done with high school), I’m not even sad that he’ll be moving out in a couple of months (ask me how I feel about this in August and maybe you’ll get a different answer?)

I’m sad that time passes.

I’m sad for the moments we won’t ever get back.

I’m sad that I’ll never again kiss that little stubble-less face, or feel the fierce love of his 5 year old body jumping into my arms. I can still see the mischievous gleam of his younger self in his adult eyes, that kid will never outgrow his love of shenanigans. But he has outgrown  hearing laughter in any room of our house and running to be in the middle of whatever is going on.

He’s also outgrown my mommy-super powers. I can’t kiss his owies and make them better any more. I used to be able to cure hurt feelings, overcome any insults his day held, by saying, “Are you kidding me? You’re AWESOME dude!” My words were weighty, but they haven’t worked that way in 5 years.

We’ve already seen how the hurts and hardships of adolescence shaped and made him stronger, so I know I  shouldn’t shield him. But boy, do I wish I could. I want to fold him into my arms and protect him from his own mistakes and others’ opinions and the heartbreak of living in the world. But I can’t, and I won’t.

So we’ll release him out into the world, taking the next big step in the journey of trust that is parenthood. We’ll trust our kid, and we’ll trust the seeds that we planted all these many years, and we’ll trust that his roots are deep enough to hold him strong through every season. But most of all, we’ll trust our Father God to work all things for good, to take even the saddest things in his life (and ours) and make something beautiful.

I can’t stop time, or hold onto the past. So I’ll remind myself that – like all the best things in life – this is both an end and a beginning. All I can do is be present, and give thanks.

I’ll keep seeing the little boy in this amazing, strong, Jesus-loving man we raised, and I’ll thank God. For Luke, for our family, and for time, even when it seems like there’s never enough.

 

We've already seen how the hurts and hardships of adolescence shaped and made him stronger, so I know I  shouldn't shield him. But boy, do I wish I could. I want to fold him into my arms and protect him from his own mistakes and others' opinions and the heartbreak of living in the world. But I can't, and I won't. So we'll release him out into the world, taking the next big step in the journey of trust that is parenthood.

(Because I know I’ll get asked… The hand-lettered sign in this pic was my Mother’s Day gift, done by Lovewell Lettering, in partnership with The Hope Venture and Mercy for Mamas. I LOVE it almost as much as I love the organizations its purchase supported, I assume they’re still available if you want one!)

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Everyday Holy: Creating a Sacramental Family

I hadn’t been a mother for very long before realizing that waking up before my children is a necessity for my mental health. I am a morning person, and I don’t function well without a bit of silence (and coffee) before facing the needs and demands of parenthood and life.

So nearly every week day my alarm goes off and I roll out of bed, stumble into my clothes, wander to the kitchen to pour a warm cup of wake-me-up,  and fall into the chair in my bedroom for a little silence, solitude, and time with Jesus and His Word. This is my preferred start to the day, and (when I don’t let myself get distracted by my dumb phone) it is a delight. But it is not the most delightful part of my morning.

The most delightful part of my morning begins over the next 30 minutes or so as the rest of the house wakes up.

Our youngest son is the only other early riser in the family. When our border collie camps out in the hallway, I know M is starting to move around. Before long I have a sleepy-eyed, pajama clad visitor. His preferred start to the day is a few minutes on my lap, and at almost 9 he will outgrow morning cuddles soon, so I soak them up while they last.

Soon my sweet husband drags himself out of bed and wakes up our sleepyhead middle child. T rises at the crack of dawn on weekends, but has to be pried out of bed when school is on the schedule. Eventually he too makes his way to my chair, seemingly unable to face the daunting task of getting dressed without a hug and kiss from his mama.

At some point in the morning, Matt wanders by in various stages of getting ready, kisses me, and tells me he loves me. An affectionate spouse is a gift I never tire of receiving.

Our youngest is eating breakfast by now, having let the dog out to do his morning business. When Dudley comes back inside, he (hilariously) also comes darting into the bedroom, sitting insistently at my feet until I tell him good morning too. He won’t leave until I’ve petted him, and most of the time he jumps up into my lap for a doggie-breath scented hug.

As my quiet morning draws to and end and the clock reminds me that it’s time to finish getting ready for my day, our oldest son comes in to say goodbye. As my alarm goes off every morning, I hear his blaring through the vents from the basement, attempting to wake the only other family member who has to be up early. This giant blond bearded man is about to graduate and fly our nest, but he never leaves without coming in and kissing his mother goodbye.


One of my co-workers has been studying and thinking about the idea of sacraments, and he won’t shut up about it (I’m not complaining, I love it!) A Sacrament is “a visible sign of an inward grace”. In the church the sacraments are the intentional, physical ceremonies we do to remind ourselves of God’s love and presence, like communion and baptism.

A good morning kiss, quiet words and loving embraces, these are such small things. But when we repeat them every day, they create an environment of affection and appreciation. A good morning kiss, quiet words and loving embraces, these are such small things. But when we repeat them every day, these small things can become holy, sacramental.

Nearly accidentally, we created a family culture of waking up to say I love you and hear it back.

I realized today that is what I want from my morning times: A quiet moment to crawl into my heavenly Father’s lap, hear “I love you” and say it back.

His love makes every day holy.

O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)

 

 

 

Photo in images by Ember + Ivory on Unsplash

 

Bittersweet

On April 9, 2003 in College Station, TX I was wrapping up another year in college ministry, rerouting summer teams whose destination had to change because of the SARS epidemic in Asia.

Meanwhile, wholly unbeknownst to me, in Omaha, NE many of the people who are now nearest and dearest to me were going through the hardest days of their lives. Fifteen years ago today, Matt’s first wife and my oldest child’s first mother lost her battle with breast cancer and went home to Jesus.

I love this life I lead, the home we’ve built, the family we rejoice in. But I also recognize that our home was built on a foundation of sadness and loss. Ours is a not a story of victory only, but of redemption.

My sweet life was made possible by the bitter hurt of the people I love the most.

So today I pray: Thanking God for my husband and son, praying for Julie’s parents, her sisters and brothers and the nieces and nephews who were robbed of knowing their aunt.

And I remember to trust God in my own bitter seasons, looking for His sweetness even here, and expecting His comfort for me and mine. He is a God who knows the bittersweet.

Checking in on my 18 for 2018 (yikes.)

Instead of traditional New Year’s Resolutions, this year I made a list of 18 things that will make my 2018 happy/happier. I promised myself that I’d check in on this list, publicly, throughout the year. I wrote “CHECK IN ON 18 FOR 2018” on Thursday 2/22 on my calendar. And when I sat down to write this, I decided that could wait and wrote half of another post before I realized that I was running away from honesty and accountability because I’m pretty sure I haven’t started in on any/many of my 18. Yikes.

This is why people hate New Year’s Resolutions, isn’t it?? I’m reminding myself that I don’t have to do these things, I want to do them, and I chose things I think will legitimately make me happier. Also, I have all year, so it’s no biggie if I haven’t even thought of a few of them, right??

So here we are: It’s 2/22, and here’s how I’m doing on my 18 for 2018.

Continue reading

DIY Dear Future Self Letter (free printable)

A Letter to My Future Self is by far my most popular post so far this year, and I so appreciate the sweet responses I’ve gotten, as well as the wonderful conversations this sparked in real life.

A few folks asked me for a printable version. Maybe they were joking, or just being sweet, but it was easy enough, so I made one :).  Continue reading

My Steps toward a HAPPIER 2018 (my 18 for 2018)

I used to feel beholden to have new year’s resolutions figured out so I could start on January 1. But man, that does NOT work for me. January is my favorite month, and I love New Year’s Resolutions, but I need TIME to think about what I really want, and to make a plan. And December does NOT give me enough time to figure that business out.

I’ve been so much better at keeping resolutions since I started giving myself more time to make them. As an all-or-nothing person, it also helps when I start new habits at more random times. I’m not sure why, but there’s a difference between “It’s only January 3 and I blew it!” and “It’s January 13, two days into my commitment to move every day, and I  forgot to do it.” For whatever reason, the second scenario makes it easier for me to start fresh the next day rather than just giving up.

For my resolutions this year, I was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast (one of my favorites) to make an 18 for 2018.

Lest you think I’m not following my own advice to keep resolutions simple, only a few of these 18 things are actual resolutions. 18 for 2018 is a list of things that will make my life happier in 2018.  Continue reading

Spiritual Adulting

I live half my life with millennials, so I’m always hearing how hard adulting is, and “I can’t adult today”. Of course I also get a front row seat to watch people grow up and learn to “adult” whether they like it or not (English major alert: I’m finding it super hard to use adult as a verb, even when I’m speaking I mentally add the quotes. I’m going to try to relax, but…)

My job allows me to be a sort of midwife/doula as college students move from freshmen to seniors, then graduate and learn to take responsibility in their lives and relationships. The internet is awash with resources for “adulting” in life and business and (to a lesser extent) relationships, but I’ve been thinking of ways we grow up in our spiritual lives. Continue reading

Fear Not: The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

I feel God calling me right now, to something new or different. I don’t want to be melodramatic, so let me be clear: I don’t know how new, or how different, and I suspect that the new or different isn’t what I expect. I also don’t think He’s calling me to something bigger. I’m guessing it is something smaller, actually.

But I do feel like He’s calling me.

That sounds pretty romantic, but the truth is that I am scared to death. I trust God, but I don’t like change, and my life already has plenty of change coming, thankyouverymuch. I’m scared.

Afraid of mis-hearing God, of making wrong decisions.

Afraid of disappointment.

Afraid of failure. (Really, really afraid of failure.)

I’m afraid.

I decided a long time ago not to make decisions based on fear, but I’ve found that fear leads me in super sneaky ways.

So I’m going back to my roots, Bible study wise, and I’m doing a Word study. I’m going to look at every place the Bible says any version of the phrase “fear not” or “do not be afraid.” I think I’ve read somewhere that “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible, so I’m guessing this will take a while.

I probably won’t write about every single verse I find, but I tend to learn more when I  communicate what I’m learning. So I’m inviting you to join me on this journey. Most Tuesdays you’ll find some “fear not” thoughts here, as I work out this truth in my life. I’d love to hear what you’re afraid of, and the areas where you need to hear God’s invitation to “fear not.”

I’ll probably study in chronological order because that makes the most sense to me (Hi, I’m Renee. I like to go in order.) But my verse of the year is from the middle of the story, and it’s another return to my roots (as this is something of a life verse for me.) Continue reading

A Letter to My Future Self

In one of the last books I read in 2017 the author,  knowing she’d be traveling the world with her family, journaled a note to herself:

I question our sanity by our third day here. I’m enamored of the earth’s diversity of climates and cultures, and I want a drink of all of it. But China is a struggle for me, with its Communist worldview a battering ram against my overzealous democratic autonomy. I knew this about China before we landed here, so a few weeks before we left I journaled a note to my future self, as a hammer to break the glass in case of an emergency (the emergency being, of course, questioning our sanity and considering a trip to a coffee shop to grab some Wi-Fi and book a return flight home):

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path. (Tsh Oxenreider)

This note keeps coming to mind as we move deeper into 2018. I’m not going globe-trotting with my family (I WISH!), but for the first time in many years I’m entering this one knowing for sure there will be hard things, because this year is bringing CHANGE (not my favorite.)

I want to be present and thankful, and I don’t want to let fear of future change steal my joy today. So from the peace and stability of January 2018, from a life that has stayed relatively the same from year to year for a while now, from a heart that naturally overflows with gratitude (rather than having to fight for it), here’s a letter to my future self.

Dear Future Renee,

From this frigid early January day, I don’t know how you’re responding to change and difficulty: With faith and grace, or struggling to trust God. Holding on tight to the things you know are true, or if giving in to fear.  I don’t know what hard things you’re facing, whether they are the ones I expect now, or others that have come as a surprise.

But I do know:

Whatever giants you are facing, God is bigger. He is with you, and His goodness is bigger than you know. You are loved and known, not forgotten and invisible.

As things shift and change, I hope you remember:

God never changes, and He will not change His mind about you.

Your stability does not come from your plans, or your ability to manage things so that everyone in the world is comfortable and safe and happy.

Your value is not from being needed by others, or from everything staying the same. Change is natural.

And your hope is not in people or organizations or homes or paychecks or roles. God’s goodness is not limited by your failures or other people’s response to you.

The great story of your faith, the story you see in the Bible and in nature is that life comes from death. You can embrace everything that feels like death right now, and release the things that are changing, the chapters that are ending, the seasons that are over. Let everything fall to the ground like seeds, and trust the God who makes the flowers grow, God who spoke everything you see into being.

Is this hard? Yes. But you can do hard things. Don’t try to do them by yourself, and don’t pretend to be stronger than you are. Say a prayer, go for a walk, choose gratitude, take a nap, call a friend. Hard doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path.

Let these changes bind you to the God who calls you by name, the Father whose arms are always open to you, whose Word has been your treasure and whose Spirit has been your breath. He will not fail you.

He will not fail you.

A Letter to my Future Self

Are you facing change or other hard things in the coming year? What would you say to your future self?

 

4 Tips for KEEPING Those New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions get a bad rap, but I LOVE them. I even make New Month resolutions (sometimes). That level of intensity is not for everyone, you do you. But as a self-improvement junkie I have learned some helpful things over the years, whether you are a resolution nut like me or not.

1. Be realistic and honest

Know what you want, why you want it, and whether or not you are willing to make the necessary changes. Lose weight/get fit is a common resolution, but if my desire to eat what I want continues to outweigh (ha!) concern about my health or appearance, I will never actually make changes in that area.I am considering some form of “keep my house clean” as a resolution this year. It has been on my long list for years (I am seriously not great at housekeeping), but rarely makes the short list. Mostly because of this principle: when I am honest with myself I just don’t care enough about it. Especially not when I had little constant-mess-makers home with me all the time. And in the two years I have worked outside the home again, I have mostly cleaned the things other people see, just before they are going to see them. But as I work on my list of 18 things that will make me happier in 2018 (from Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, more on this soon!), I know that having less clutter and dirt would make me happy. Especially the areas like my bathroom that only affect me, since those tend to be last on my list, always. I just need to figure out some manageable steps, and am trying to be realistic about my desire and commitment to change.

2. Keep your resolutions short and simple

Even into my 30s when I should have known better, I was making lists of 10+ (or 20!) things I wanted to change or improve. And I regularly didn’t make it a week with even one. First: My focus was spread too wide to actually accomplish any one thing. Second: If your list is long, you likely have things on there you’d like to improve, but don’t actually care about enough to make the necessary habit changes (see number one.)

I am making a list of 18 things that will make 2018 happier, but there are only a few traditional resolutions on there. The list is filled out with tasks (like “clean out my closet monthly”, “find a system for regularly getting the photos on my phone into some physically enjoyable form.”) or things I want more of (sleep) or less (wasting time on my phone.)

My actual resolutions are few, specific, and things I actually care enough about to change.

3. Schedule it

Whatever your resolution is, put it on the calendar. And honestly consider what you need to say NO to in order to say YES to your new habit (or vice verse, what positive thing you will do in order to say no to a bad habit.)

I have already failed at this. I intended to do daily yoga in January, but I didn’t plan a time in my day to do it. So I am already behind 2 days. I can’t think I will do daily yoga (or daily anything else) without planning a place and time in my schedule for that to happen.

I am going to follow my own advice (from the Advent Devotional) and jump in today rather than trying to catch up. And I am picking a realistic time to do it (mornings on weekends and holidays, just after my younger two go to bed on work days.) That should get me on track to keep that resolution (which I am REALLY excited about!)

4. Start where you are and embrace a GROWTH versus an ALL OR NOTHING mindset

Real growth happens when we make daily deposits, over time. Small, regular habits accumulate, and consistency trumps random. But our tendency is to jump in making sweeping changes without addressing smaller habits that make up that lifestyle. For example: If I rarely or never exercise, and my New Year’s Resolution is to work out for an hour daily, how likely am I to give up? Quite.

This one is really hard for me, because I am 100% all-or-nothing. Matt says I am a light switch, either all in or all out (he is a dimmer switch, slowly inching his way up. This is a very entertaining marriage dynamic.)

I have to try hard to remember that small changes add up, because making a resolution to do something small or incremental seems super lame to me. But when I make big goals and can’t keep up the pace, I give up completely, forgetting that anything I am doing counts toward growth and change, if I do it consistency.

The idea of habits has been really helpful for me. I try to remember that anything I do or don’t do regularly is a habit. Two years ago one of my resolutions was to floss daily. I occasionally skipped, but on the second day I would remind myself that I was in danger of sliding back into my habit of not flossing.

As I think about health and wellness goals this year, I want to keep a growth mindset: Any healthy choice is better than not caring at all, ignoring or shaming my body. I also need to keep this habit principle in mind, not bullying myself or depending on rules and schedules, but asking, “Am I making a habit of ignoring and mistreating my body? Or am I habitually nourishing and caring for myself?”

Happy New Year! And cheers to making resolutions we can KEEP!

Have you made resolutions this year? What helps you keep your new year’s resolutions?