Packing Up

When they were days old, we prepared to leave the hospital.  We packed their bags.  With blankets and hats, plenty of diapers, extra onezies, a spare bottle of formula, diaper wipes, hand sanitizer, burp cloths.   We wanted them to be clean, well fed, and comfortable.

When they were two, we packed their bags.  With sippee cups and goldfish, well-loved board books, favorite stuffed animals, and a change of clothes – just in case.  We wanted them to be happy and content.

When they were seven, we packed their bags.  With soccer cleats and ballet shoes,  snacks for the road, favorite stories on CD for the car, markers for creating and books for reading.  We wanted them to explore the world, to receive a taste of the wonder, challenge, and richness that it had to offer.

When they were thirteen, we packed their bags.  We offered words of caution, wisdom,  preparation, and encouragement. While we watched them packed their bags.  With textbooks and notebooks, Gatorade, musical instrument and sports equipment.  The weight of the backpack was nothing compared to the weight of learning to parent teenagers.   We wanted them to make wise choices.

When they left for college, we helped them pack their bags.  With coordinating sheets and comforters, new towels, three seasons worth of clothing, and cleaning supplies and an iron that may or may not be utilized.  We drove away from campus feeling acutely aware of all that we wished we’d said and done.  Hoping that we’d left them with “enough”, and praying that as they needed wisdom, strength,or encouragement, they would reach into the bags we’d been packing for years.

This January, Chapman, our oldest son, studied in England for several weeks.  When he returned, he pulled from his bag several thoughtful gifts for our family.  Gifts that were so very “Chapman”, including sticky balls filled with a strange gooey substance for the kids, and a beautiful painting for me.  Yet the most significant gift that emerged from the dirty laundry and crumpled remnants of sightseeing receipts was his gift for my husband.

From his bag, Chapman presented a Blazon of Arms for our family. The certificate that accompanied it stated the following:

“Coats of arms originated in the 13th century as designs carried by knights of old on their shields in order that they could be identified on the battlefield.  These ‘armorials’ were formally recorded by heralds, with crests and mottoes later supplementing the arms.  The language of heraldry is of great antiquity and each ‘charge’ or device is symbolic.”  Its design was to reflect the character of the family.  It was a public display of private, deeply-held values.  It marked a soldier on the battlefield.

“Silander” is a Finnish name, for which there is no existing Blazon of Arms.  As a result, Chapman was given the freedom to choose from a long list of attributes to create his own.  A fitting job for an eldest son.

For the arms, he chose a lion atop a chief azure with three amulets, signifying strength and faith.  For the crest, he chose an arm embossed in armor  brandishing a sword entwined with a serpent proper, signifying wisdom.

When they were young, I thought that the goal of parenting was to smuggle all the advice, caution, wisdom, and encouragement into their bags, in hopes that they would make room and keep it all.  But as they became young adults, the bag became weighty.  Some of what we had packed was no longer needed.  Some of it just didn’t fit.

As Chapman walks across the stage today, he’ll be crossing the bridge into the land of full-fledged adulthood.  As he meets the experiences and challenges that the world has to offer, I’m grateful that the Good Gift Giver will continue to provide him with all that he’ll need. Far more than we ever could.   I also take comfort in knowing that it’s time for Chapman to choose what to take (and not to take) along on the journey.   He’ll sift through his bag bulging with two decades worth of advice, education, suggestion, heartache, experience, disappointment, hopes and dreams in order to emerge wearing a crest that’s distinctly his own.  One that is a public display of private, deeply held values.  A crest that embodies the guiding principles for his life.  One that will mark him on the battlefield.

The Silander Family motto –  Fides Vires Sapientia

Faith, Strength and Wisdom

I’d say he’s off to a promising start.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Through all the years of late night feedings, doctors appointments, carpooling, dance class, soccer games, piano recitals, math tests, church picnics, beach vacations, instructions in manners, challenges in disciplining, debate over appropriate movies (music, clothing and friendships), and dreams for the future, there was always that still small voice whispering, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” 

As we help our children pack up for the next adventure in their lives, the goal is not perfect parenting, nor is it perfect children.  The goal is for our children to lean on the Perfect Parent.  For that same still small voice is whispering to them,

“My grace is sufficient for you,  for my power
is made perfect in your weakness.”  2 Cor. 12:9



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Barre Work
Ode to The Bard on His Birthday
Less than Ideal

Sweet Communion

The following is a guest post by Rebecca Reynolds.  In addition to being a gracious and thoughtful writer, Becca’s repertoire includes star-studded peep-o-ramas, circus peanut sculptures, and stunning portraits etched in Oreo cookie creme.  You can visit her blog at Little Boot Liturgies.

 

Sometimes M struggles with “lifting” candy. We were expecting this, because orphanage living caters to the shrewd. It’s fairly common for parents of internationally-adopted children to find stashes of food stuffed in hiding places all around the house. Kids do this because they want to make sure they have something to eat later if they need it.

Mosie doesn’t hide regular food, but he does lift suckers. If I get occupied with some chore around the house, I will hear little feet thumping through the dining room, hear the kitchen stool scooting, and soon I will find a pile of paper wrappers and sticks lying on the counter. He knows this is off limits. He does it anyway.

I’m more concerned about his heart than a little extra sugar. Truth be told, he’s so cute, it’s difficult to make myself deal with such a small offense. However, since the trajectory of his heart is developing, I kneel down and show him the wrappers. I let him know I’m in on the sham.

Then, I will re-explain that he can have candy, but that he needs to ask Momma first; and we’ll slowly talk through the dialogue that should have happened in the first place. I’ll make sure he can repeat it, ask him to apologize, give him a big hug, and give him a chance to do it right. Then – don’t judge me – I’ll give him a sucker so he can enjoy it sans guilt.

This has been happening for several weeks now. During that time, I’ve intentionally kept the suckers where he could reach them. I want him to learn to resist them.

As our relationship has grown, I can tell that his dilemma has grown as well. At first, when he was feeling guilty, he would avert his eyes when I walked in the room. He would hang his head. His face would flush.

Then, something new began:

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. (Enter little feet.) “Hello, Momma!” One hand behind the back, shifting from foot to foot.

“Hello, M. What are you doing?”

“Hello, Momma.” (Forced smile. Hand still behind back. Still shifting foot to foot.)

I know he has a sucker in the hand. I can feel the tension within him. He wants closeness with me. He wants the candy. He wants both.

My little son waits there with all the pain I feel when I want both. “Hello, God. I want You. But what I’m protecting from You tastes sweet, too.” So I stand at the fork in the road, with my hand behind my back (as if flesh could shelter idols from the All-seeing), teasing out the advantages and disadvantages of communion.

Suddenly, I see in those two little eyes an appeal. Not for candy, but for understanding. “Can you feel how hard this choice is, Momma? This awful dilemma? I want this thing. And I want to be free of it.”

We are the same, he and I.

So I put my hand behind my own back, and I look into his eyes. I turn around, showing him my hand, and that I know what he hides.

His mouth flies open. He is astonished. He is loved despite the worst. Relieved and undone, he seems not to know whether to laugh or cry. What a terrible, wonderful thing to be understood!

Quickly, I scoop him up, and I kiss him until he realizes that being known is a refuge in times like these. Because by bringing me the dilemma, he did choose me — before he even realized he had made a choice at all.

He brought me his weakness, and I gave him sonship. Also, I gave him candy.

“All of life is repentance, and repentance increases joy.  It’s not traumatic; it’s joyful and it’s healing.”  Tim Keller

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

 



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Delightful

The following guest post was written by Meredith Spatola.  In addition to being a new mama and gifted writer, Meredith is a counselor at The Barnabas Center.  She is also a Furman girl, which makes me smile.

 

It was a moment I had anticipated at several points throughout the past year; the crescendo of my daughter Charlotte’s first birthday celebration. During the nights and long days of the first few months, I silently wondered how we would make it to this point. But long days turned into fleeting weeks and then months. Here we were. Charlotte was placed in our dining room in front of the same cake my mom had made for my first birthday. I lit her candle and our family and close friends began to sing “Happy Birthday” to her. I hoped she’d be excited, and wondered if she’d burst into tears. Instead, she did something I was not expecting. Her eyes lit up and danced; she sat quietly listening and watching as the sound of more than 30 voices of people who love her welcomed her to year two of life.

A look came across her face that I have never seen on her before, and it was glorious. Her countenance was utterly absent of shame. She exuded an open delight in being celebrated, and (at least I like to believe) in that moment, she was not afraid to receive others’ enjoyment of her. The moment passed, and she gobbled down at least two slices of that cake, and we went on with the festivities.

But something in me remains deeply stirred by the memory. For far too many days of my daughter’s first year of life, I let pressure be the truest thing. Pressure to be always present, connected, and attuned, to make homemade baby food, to keep up with the steady flow of cloth diaper laundry, read to her “enough” every day, and the host of other expectations perfection-driven first time mothers place upon their own shoulders. I am sure that in a few years, I will look back and laugh at the burdens I put on myself to come through for my daughter perfectly.

I am so thankful that for a few minutes on Charlotte’s birthday, the Father of us both kindly met me, and stirred me with the hope that something else might be truer. Something far less controllable than me feeling adequate at the end of the day because I had parented well, but something far more sure and deep. He reminded me that in many ways, I was once that little girl too- that there had been a time in my own life when I was open to the longing that someone would find me delightful, when I trusted without fear that I was loved.

And He invited me to hope that it just might be worth it to live this way today. Not because I will always be surrounded by people willing to sing to me and celebrate my life, but because He sings over me and celebrates my life every morning that I wake up for another day of it. How kind and humorous of Him to use my one year old to teach me about my heart, when all the while I had lived like I needed to perfectly teach her. I am amazed at how committed God is to using motherhood to free us up from the shelters we run to for covering. I know He often does this through the painful letting go of mothering, but we can hope that He will also meet and free us through the innocent delight of our children.

“He will take great delight in you, and will rejoice over you with singing….” Zephaniah 3:17

 

 



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Grandma

It Takes a Village

For thousands of years, civilizations have raised children.  Local communities shared the burden of birthing, nurturing, disciplining, and preparing their offspring for adulthood.  Generations learned from one another, wept, and rejoiced together.  It was unthinkable to tackle such a daunting endeavor alone.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Although we may live hundreds of miles from our relatives, and our packed schedules curtail relationship with those in our neighborhood, we still need each other.  Wisdom, experience, perspective, and encouragement from others serve as critically-needed oxygen to feed the heart of parenting.

This Mother’s Day week, I have the great honor of introducing some of my friends to you.  Each woman’s perspective, voice, and family, is distinctively different from the others.  Yet each individual story has been spun from the heart of the same Great Storyteller. My hope is that you will be encouraged.  That the burden of birthing, nurturing, disciplining, and preparing children for adulthood will be lightened.  Even if only through affirmation that no, you are not alone.

Mothers have the great privilege of ushering life into this world, and of sustaining and nurturing it.  Many of you have never given birth to children.  Yet you bring life and enrichment to your friends, neighbors, extended family members, and those in your community.  The truths these friends will be sharing are equally applicable to you.

Men, I’d encourage you to take the time and read the posts as well.  Each offers a glimpse of the Father.  Of his love and provision.  Of the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) ways in which he breathes life into his children, and prepares them for their great inheritance.  As you read, if a particular piece brings someone to mind, please share generously.  The words penned are the currency of the Kingdom, and when shared, will suffice as a meaningful gift to the receiver.

Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a new post from a different writer.  Take time to explore their sites.  If you’re touched, let them know.  Your words will be an encouragement to them.

To my friends, thank you for inspiring me (and others) as we navigate the journey before us.  We need each other.

It takes a village.



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Hope from an Unlikely Place

The Gift

The following post was written by Carrie Luke, who blogs at Journeys of a Prodigal Daughter.   Carrie recently lost her beloved friend, Sydney, after a battle with cancer.  I only met Sydney a few times, yet through Carrie’s tender words and pictures, her life and spirit have greatly impacted me – and a multitude of others.  It has been truly amazing to watch this beautiful community of women surround and step into the lives of Sydney’s family.

It had everything one might expect to find at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “Carmel Cake” was displayed in the dining room.

It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl. And we were all missing her.

It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, and contrary to that nature, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing and blog.

Now, he opened up his home ( and Syd’s closet) which provided everyone with an opportunity to stop, to feel, to laugh, and to cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.

After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.

As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over  and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”

This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.

At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter.  Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney.  So I decided to try to find her.

I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.

I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up,  but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wild flowers.

I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.

Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But, it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheel chair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.

When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.

Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only her’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself, but had adjusted it to fit me.

I had found some words.

I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.

***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:

“How I Met Your Mother.”

I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.

You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But, she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.

As I was walked around the store, I noticed that every where I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said(declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”

I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.

I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.

A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But, my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.

She brought you two girls,(this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’

I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched,  to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.

After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.

You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.

Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.

When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”

I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”

“It’s amazing,” she said.

I looked at it again.

“Really?” I doubted.

At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.

“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”

I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”

She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.

She asked me why I took the picture.

“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”

She was quite. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.

About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”

A few months later, she gave me this.

She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”

Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.

This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.

That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.

(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)



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Wedding Planners

We’ve been wedding planning, my eight year old and I. The flowers were the perfect shades of pink, the dessert carefully chosen (not too sweet, but with a hint of almond), the music just right, and then there were the words. Beautiful, powerful words that snuck up on me and made me cry through my smile. It was a perfect moment in time, when all was right with the world. The agenda that had seemed so important earlier in the day had evaporated as vapor. The list of to-dos and waiting laundry, so recently weighing down my soul, were  briskly plucked from their unrightful place of power. The urgency of that which is temporal had been replaced, if only for a moment, with that which is beautiful, truthful, and eternal.

We conspired together, my beautiful girl and I, on the back porch. The boys were away and the house was quiet. With excited anticipation, we had talked of this moment for the last several weeks. The time had finally come to finish our book, and it was bittersweet. As we read the last chapter, I was surprised by my tears. I had been touched down deep in a place that was typically reserved for grown-up, real-life situations. But this little girls’ book, so full of life and laughter, struck a tender spot in my heart, and I could hardly finish.

We sipped our tea and nibbled our scones, my sweet girl smiling her toothy grin and chuckling at her mom. We ate, we drank, we listened, we felt deeply.  We experienced a taste of joy. It was sacred ground. For this, we were made.  We are wedding planners.

“What would happen if we did invite our children into our theology, to dance, to improvise, to play and to draw beautifully?  You see, it does have to do with the Gospel, in our true identity as the heirs of Christ, as princes and princesses of the Great King.  The Feast is to come, the Wedding about to start.

A wedding is planned:  and it will require all of our senses, and all of the arts.  What wedding have you attended that did not include all of the arts:  dance, poetry, design, fashion, culinary crafts?  By advocating for the arts, we are planning for the Cosmic Wedding to come.  Christians are wedding planners.”       Makoto Fujimura

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



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Barre Work

The first time I walked through that very ordinary doorway, I entered a portal into another world.  It was an unexpected discovery, that world of beauty and grace.  Girls lined up against the wall like dominos in a row, one behind the other.  Alone, each was not so different than me.  Wispy girls with freckled noses and hair pulled back as tight as onion skins.

As the music first trickled, then flooded into the room, the girls began to move.  They  ceased being individuals and became intricate parts of a larger organism.  The great animal had a long set of identical pink legs, all of which traced shapes on the floor, sliced through the air, and melted toward the ground in perfect unison.  Out of the creature’s left side protruded a row of delicate arms, all grasping the walnut-colored bar that ran the length of the room.  When I walked through that doorway, my life changed forever.  I took my place in line, and began the first of what through the years would become thousands of hours of barre work.

To the dancer who aspires to reach her full potential, barre work is a fundamental, necessary discipline.  Every session of ballet class begins with a familiar cadence of exercises, each with a specific purpose.  Through a repetitive series of tendus, pliés, and grande battements,  tension forced upon specific muscles causes them to contract and strengthen.  The observer would see nothing outstanding, impressive, or creative.  Yet over time, with endless repetition and correct technique,  shaky muscles become dependable.  Tentative positioning becomes resolute.  Easily-fatigued core muscles become an unshakable axis for the rest of the body.

Repetition and increased difficulty force tension, tension produces fatigue, and fatigue endured results in strength.  

Unknowingly, I was being prepared for the endurance needed in marriage…  through disappointments, struggles, and challenges.  The decision to love, or more specifically to acknowledge and starve my own selfish desires, often required more energy than I thought I could muster. At times, I’ve failed abysmally.  Yet over the last 18 years, we’ve continued to lean toward each other more frequently than back away.  Working through tension and fatigue rather than quitting (even silently), has slowly produced a foundational strength. From that growing foundation, we’ve been able to give more freely –  in our community, at work, and in service to others.

Work at the barre also produces increased flexibility.   Certain exercises are designed to reduce internal tissue resistance.  Over time, those muscles can stretch more easily, allowing  a much greater range of motion.  However, the dancer must use caution. Flexibility can only be increased through time.  It cannot be forced.  When tissue is overused, it may become fatigued and tear, resulting in significant loss of flexibility.  Arms, legs, back, neck – all must be taught to relax through a gradual series of slow, deliberate stretches. Even the foot must work diligently.  The subtle movement of rolling the beautifully arched, pointed foot through to a dramatic angled flex involves the engagement of thirty-eight muscles working in perfect concert.

A flexible body  has greater range of mobility, can thrive more readily during difficulty, is more adaptable, and is less apt to be injured.

With every stretch and extension, I was being prepared for the flexibility required in motherhood…  with five very different children who have five very different sets of needs and personalities, and who also happen to be in significantly different phases of life.  Rigidity leads to injury, both in the world of dance and in the world of parenting.

Strength and flexibility must increase in proportion.  Too much focus on strength training alone can result in rigid muscles that limit range of movement.  Too much focus on flexibility alone can result in a body that is easily fatigued.  Over time, and often through experience, the dancer learns the difference between productive discomfort and destructive pain. She learns to endure that which will bring her closer to her full potential while wisely heeding signs of danger and injury.

Understanding the difference between productive and destructive pain is critical to healthy development.

Through strained muscles and bleeding toes, I learned that not all pain is to be avoided.  Some pain is a signal that hard, necessary work is occurring.  It serves a purpose.  When relationships are unhealthy, there is often some degree of pain necessary to bring healing and wholeness.  

Day after day, class after class, tendu after battement after plié, the dancer finds that she no longer has to think intently to find perfect perfect positioning.  Correct body placement and exercise execution become routine.  Routine becomes habit.  And habit becomes instinctual – as natural as breath itself.

The result of submission to intense training at the barre is the development of strength, flexibility and muscle memory.  As a result,  the dancer is liberated to experience the emotion and creativity of her art to the fullest.

Only through discipline comes the truest form of freedom.

I learned much through the exhaustive hours spent at the barre.  I was stretched beyond comfort, pushed beyond my assumed capacity, and challenged to wrestle chaos into obedience.  Yet rather than being broken or subdued, I was being prepared for life.

As the years passed, I began to understand that the laws of dance were only reflections of the laws of the Universe.  Minor truths pointing the way to Ultimate Truth.

If we pay attention, we’ll see that we’ve been given signposts all along the way…

Through our stories.
Through our passions.
Through our hopes and dreams.

Through our dance classes,
And our ball games.
Through our band practices,
And our games of make believe.
Through our reading,
And our playing, singing, laughing, arguing, sandcastle building, snowball launching, fort making, wave jumping and story reading.

All very ordinary doorways, each granting temporary access to the extraordinary, ancient, and eternal world.

“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” – Aslan

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader




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Ode to The Bard on His Birthday

This is being reposted in honor of William Shakespeare on his birthday
(originally posted this time last year)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I tripped and fell into homeschooling my younger children.  It wasn’t planned, wasn’t the long-fulfilled desire of my heart, and wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction to a bad school situation.  More on what brought us to this place on another day.

But I do love what we do (most days) and am constantly reminded what a privilege it is to be the one who gets to discover and explore this great big wonderful world with my children.  Last week, we had our year-end state-required testing.  They did well, although I’m convinced that “the best” of what we do will never be measured by or demonstrated on any test.  More on that another day as well.

The remainder of our school year will be much more laid back – we’re done with Spelling, Math, etc.  We’ve been freed from the “must-do’s” in order to enjoy more of the “can’t wait to-do’s”.  I must admit that as we entered this phase of the school year, I wasn’t sure what our days would hold.  More serious practice of instruments in preparation for recitals, finalizing details for our eldest daughter’s wedding, and freedom to enjoy our history reading at a more leisurely pace were what we’ve all been eagerly anticipating.

The fruits of a more relaxed schedule always catch me off guard – in the best sense of the term.  Today, Will (my 11 yr. old) disappeared for a substantial period of time.  This was no great surprise, as he is my avid and somewhat obsessive reader.  However, he finally emerged from his solace not with a conquered book in hand, but having created the following:

Although we never gave a test in history, never required a project, and rarely adhered to the “lesson plan”, I think we actually learned something this year!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some of our favorite resources on Shakespeare:

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by Edith Nesbit
Probably my favorite (but take into account that I’m a huge Nesbit fan).  Beautifully written, engaging, and true to story, yet each chapter is short enough to read in one sitting.

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
A classic.  Similar to the Nesbit book, but the stories are a bit longer.

The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute
Highly recommended.  A little boy runs away to find himself living in the Globe Theatre.  He becomes part of the Shakespeare household.  Many of the actual historical characters are included, and we get to see “behind the scenes” as Mr. Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Juliet, is being produced.

Hamlet for Kids (one of a series) by Lois Burdett
This series is a fun introduction for children.  I’d recommend reading the Nesbit story first, then reading through Burdett’s corresponding book.  Each book tells one of Shakespeare’s stories through rhyme.  The artwork (and occasional commentary) is provided by children.  The stories are clever, fun, and often include direct quotes from Shakespeare.

Will Shakespeare and the Globe Theater by Anne Terry White
One of the World Landmark series.  A great piece of historical fiction that walks the reader through Shakespeare’s life and the Globe Theater.  An easy read, but I learned much.

Will’s Quill (or How a Goose Saved Shakespeare) by Don Freeman
A delightful picture book.  Found in most libraries.

Shakespeare for Children CD by Jim Weiss
Weiss is a master storyteller.  I’d recommend his cds for children of all ages.

If you have some favorites, please share for the benefit of others…



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Here We Go Again… Parenting Teenagers the Second Time Around

 

Barely over a mile in, and I’m sucking wind.  So sad.  It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, an exponentially longer run resulted in euphoria, not fatigue. I’ve been moderately sick for a few months and unable to run, so today was the big day.  Despite perfect weather, adequate sleep, and the strategically-timed cup of coffee, I limped along fueled by sheer determination.  I’m tired.

We have five children, ages 8-25, and currently have no teenagers.  Think about it.  Our family makeup could practically be used as a logic riddle.  The last few years have been somewhat of a “golden age” in our home with no little ones awake in the wee hours of the morning, and no new drivers or high school parties requiring late night parenting vigils.  Let me be clear – I love much about the teen years.  The shift from childhood toward maturity, meaningful conversations, pivotal choices, and a glimpse into what their adult life may hold, collectively make this phase of parenting significant.  But as with any worthwhile endeavor, that which is of great value often comes at great cost.

At one point, we had two teenagers, a pre-schooler, a toddler, and a newborn living in our home.  Our oldest children are now in their early twenties and actually survived their teen years, largely in spite of us. On this side of the “parenting the teenager” journey, I’m increasingly convinced that much of the stress and heartache along the way is largely reflective of the parents, not the kiddos.  That, by the way, is a personal confession.  In hindsight, there is nothing like a normal, healthy teenager to reveal the selfish heart and personal agenda of a parent.  But somehow, we all made it through, and watching our young adults make their way in the world has made it well worth the effort required.

In my 39th year, I confessed to a friend that running a longish race was on my unspoken bucket list.  She didn’t let me stop at a wish, and pledged to run all of the longer training runs with me.  Before I knew it, I had registered for the race, printed out my training schedule, and purchased bright new running shoes.  I had no idea what the next few months would hold, but was fueled by excitement, aspiration, and a meticulously-loaded ipod.   I couldn’t have anticipated the cold, dark, insanely early morning runs or the “gut through it because I only had four narrow windows each week for runs.  But somehow, we made it through, and race day made it well worth the effort required.

As I embark on the familiar territory of starting to run again, you’d think that it would be easier this time.  I know what to expect. I know my best times of the day to run, and the proper way to eat and hydrate.   I’ve run much faster and further with considerably less effort.  But for some reason, starting over today seemed harder.

During the last several months, it has become clear that it’s time once again to lace up our shoes and prepare for parenting the next round of teenagers (the oldest of our younger crowd is twelve).  And as we embark on this second round of parenting teens, you’d think that we’d be better prepared for an easier experience.  We’ve covered similar territory before. We know what to expect. Which may be why it feels daunting this time… but for very different reasons.

Thankfully, what I’ve lost through the years in terms of energy and brain cells, I’ve gained in other areas.  Although this is the section where you might expect the “now we’re wiser and more prepared,” well… here is what is different: This time around, I’m more aware of my selfishness and the reality that I do indeed have a personal agenda.  I’m less sure of the answers, and more curious about the questions.  And most importantly, I have a glimpse of my general tendency to parent out of my own strength and wisdom.  The challenge this time isn’t getting it right. It’s acknowledging that I can’t.

No doubt, we made a multitude of mistakes the first time around.  And my guess is that we’ll make a whole new batch of mistakes with this second opportunity.  But I’ve come to believe that the goal is not to be the perfect parent, but rather to become a diligent pupil of the Ultimate Teacher.  And in doing so, I hope to slow down and enjoy the scenery of the everyday.  To focus less on the finish line, the adults that we hope our teens will become, and focus more on the gift of each step along the way.  Even the accidental rabbit trails I wouldn’t have chosen, unexpected obstacles in the path, and weary muscles are a gift.  They are a necessary part of the process, and will eventually be absorbed into our larger lives’ stories.

As dormant muscles are reawakened, healthier patterns are established, and the initial shock to the system ushers in a “new norm,” my hope is that:

  •  I’ll be less likely to gauge my progress by the apparent pace of those around me
  •  I won’t take one step for granted – even on the hardest of days 
  •  I’ll be mindful of the Source of all true wisdom, energy, and direction, and will parent accordingly  

I’ll count it an honor and a privilege to run this race…the second time around 



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A Visit from the Tooth Fairy

Twas the month before Christmas

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring…

…unless you count the faintest sound of delicate wings fluttering through the air, down the hall, and under the door into my daughter’s room. The tiny sprite hovered over a stuffed Tooth Fairy Bear, which had gotten quite comfortable in a doll’s chair. His work had been sparse as of late, but the little girl with a mouth full of teeth finally called upon his service a few nights ago.

Caroline’s baby tooth, which had managed to evade being pushed out by its replacement, had snuggled tightly out of sight behind her new gleaming white grown-up tooth. I’d begun to worry that her dental fate would be the same as that of a Yorkie puppy, with two complete sets of teeth, row behind row. 


Alas, the baby tooth had released its grip, the Tooth Fairy Bear was summoned from the back of the cluttered closet, and my plucky little seven year old set out on a mission. In her best handwriting, she carefully crafted a note to the Tooth Fairy. She wanted to know if the Tooth Fairy was real, and what she (or he) did with the collected teeth.

Just as Santa’s gift creation, selection, and distribution habits differ from family to family, the same is true of the Tooth Fairy. For some children she leaves notes, for others, small presents, coins, or other tokens of great value. She knows our family well, and as a result, leaves behind carefully selected and signed books in exchange for outgrown teeth. In addition to inscribing Caroline’s new book, she noted a few of the most common fairy uses for children’s teeth.

Rather than satisfying her inquiring mind, the correspondence fueled the fire of Caroline’s curiosity. She spent the better part of the next morning using her very best penmanship to compose the following:

~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Tooth Fary-

Are you small or larg?

What do you eat?

Wher do you live?

What do you do with your dust?

What are your magic pours?

Are you a boy or girl or wimon or man?

Do you have randbow bridge?

What is your name?

Do you have pets?

Do you have a house?

Love, Caroline

~~~~~~~~~~~

The following day, she awoke to find the following letter penned on lilac fairy stationary leaning against her Tooth Fairy Bear:

 

Dear Caroline,

Thank you for my note. Again, you’ve done a lovely job with your handwriting. You asked me several good questions. Sometimes in the Land of Fairies, we answer good questions by asking good questions back. For example: “Is Narnia real?” Let me know what you think, after you decide.

Someday, Caroline, you may grow too big for me. You’ll have your big girl teeth and you won’t think of me too often. But, you will never grow too big for Jesus. No matter how old you get, He will become more wonderful and more real to you as each year passes. You can never outgrow Him. Ever. If I fade, Jesus will become brighter to you. And if I become smaller, He will become larger. His adventures are exciting, His gifts are beautiful, and the friendship that you have with Him will last your whole life… even beyond. His is the best story of all, and I am happy for mine to help you to find it. In fact, that’s why I’m here, and why Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. Our job, you see, is a lot like the job of Mr. Beaver in Narnia—we point you to the King.

I can’t answer all of your very good questions, but I’m happy to answer a few. Indeed, I do love to eat fresh spiffiny drumkies, but not too many or it’s hard for me to fly. I live wherever I happen to find myself. Neverland and Middle Earth are some of my favorite places to visit.  I don’t have pets, but there are many creatures that are my friends, like snicket jumpers (the little blue ones) and peffiny lumkets. But, they are too small and too fast for little girls to see.

Now, if you wouldn’t mind answering a question for me, I could also use some help. Someone once told me that little girls are made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice—and that little boys were made of snakes, and snails, and puppy dog tails. Is that for real?

Love, The Tooth Fairy

~~~~~~~~~~

It should be noted that the above-mentioned letter looks suspiciously like the letter from Santa written to Rebecca Reynold’s daughter years ago. Although I was initially shocked at this discovery, I eventually realized that of course Santa is far better with words than the Tooth Fairy. His work is quite seasonal, so he has ample time in which to read books and refine his writing. The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, is in constant demand throughout the year. Given Santa’s generous nature, he gave his permission for the original letter to be tweaked accordingly. 


With that in mind, if you have any children (young or old) who doubt the reality of the Tooth Fairy, or Santa, or any of their friends, perhaps his letter can be of service to you.



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