Since I was a "late bloomer," getting married at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, and since there was some concern that I might have a difficult time becoming pregnant, our idea of family planning was "we'll take what we can get when we can get it." Okay, that was Mike's policy. Since said babies would be issuing forth out of my body, I added a little fine print to the policy: "until I am 35."
Turns out, I didn't have a difficult time--as in three babies in four years--which was good, given our late start and all. Still, by my calculations, I changed diapers for seven consecutive years. In fact, because of their spacing, every phase happened all in one long stretch. The toddler years, preschool years, peewee soccer and basketball years, elementary years, middle school years...high school years....ulp. With two in college already, I am now in my final year of the high school years.
Well, THAT went fast.
I joke often nowadays that once the baby (the six-foot something baby) graduates, we should get a set of "do-over" kids now that we know what we're doing. (As if we do...) Actually, unless the "do-over" kids come with a "do-over" energetic body, I think I'll let that dream go.
Still, I'll pass along some of the things I've learned through the phases. (NOTE: I'm not claiming to be a perfect parent--so not. Remember, some wisdom comes from failure.)
1. Let them eat dirt. I know there are awful stories of kids getting sick from eating raw cookie dough, improper hand washing and what not, but generally speaking, they have a tendency to live. I am convinced that my kids are so healthy now because when they were young they ate dirt (or worse, in the case of my taste-testing last born), chewed on the occasional bug, walked around barefoot, and entertained themselves swimming in ponds, digging craters in the back yard, and making potions out of mud. Most of this was without my permission, mind you, but they are living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
2. Consistency in discipline is far more important than what method you choose. Naturally I am talking about appropriate and loving discipline. This tip I learned from a wonderful pediatrician in Bellingham, Washington who had a rather large brood of kids with a wide range of personalities. He told me that more important than whether I opted for time-outs or spankings, what my kids needed most were clear expectations for behavior and consistently applied consequences for misbehavior. Children need to know the deal and know that you can be trusted to keep your end of the deal--even when it's unpleasant.
3. The goal of child-rearing is not to control their behavior, but to help them develop self-control. Perfect behavior may feel more peaceful in the short-term, but if their behavior can only be regulated by external forces, we're not really raising adults. Every human being has free will. Our job is to teach our children that choices have consequences, but the choices are theirs to make. Help them own their choices by letting them make choices--even the wrong ones.
4. Child labor is good for the child. Give them chores. Age-appropriate chores build self-confidence and autonomy. At the same time, taking part in the chores of the home gives kids a chance to be part of a bigger team. Along the same lines, (and this one was a tough one for me) don't do for a child (or teenager) what he can do for himself--even if you can do it better and faster.
5. Let them get bored! Do I really need to explain this? My sweet momma actually strategically applied #4 and #5 together: If we told her we were bored, she had a long list of chores for us to relieve our boredom! Some of my kids' sweetest memories and most creative moments came from the need to find a way to cure boredom. (So did some of our biggest messes, so be warned...)
6. Praise character over performance, or intelligence, or beauty. Hard work and perseverance are praiseworthy, regardless of results. Kind actions are praise worthy. Honesty is praiseworthy. In contrast, intelligence and beauty are simply a matter of genetics and God's design--they are no more praiseworthy than freckles, height or hair color. Although this applies to both genders it is CRITICAL for girls. They need to internalize at a young age that their value lies much deeper than the outer shell.
7. Let them take risks and give them permission to fail. You can't have great success without risk, and risk brings with it the possibility of failure. Encourage them to count the cost, take risks, and recover from failure. Share stories of your own failures and what they taught you.
8. Model humility by admitting when you are wrong. Ask for forgiveness. Kids don't need perfect parents (which is good, because there aren't any); they need authentic and humble parents.
9. Let them see you and HELP you serve others. It's great for kids to experience their parents serving them, but they also need to see their parents serve someone besides them. The most unhappy people I've met in my life are people who live only for their own happiness. Help your kids experience the satisfaction of looking beyond themselves and working for the happiness of another.
10. Always remember that your life speaks much more loudly than your words. Live the truth you want them to understand. If you want them to value honesty, be honest. If you want them to be kind, be kind yourself. If you want them to love Jesus, delight in Him.
This post is in honor of "Doc"Alvin Warnick (sp?), whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Cattle Reproduction Clinic the girls and I attended in early August. At 94-years-old, he still suited and gloved up every morning and tutored us in the finer points of pregnancy palpation in cattle. On real cows, mind you. During one conversation he told me, "I have an idea that I'd like to write a book. You may have noticed I'm very interested in people. Well, I would love to write a book about married couples that tells all the different stories about how people meet one another." This one is for you, Doc!
Ask anyone who knows him, and they will tell you that I married one of the best men on the planet. Frankly, I'm not really sure how we ever found each other, because you could not meet a more unlikely couple. We are living proof of the maxim that opposites attract.
When we met--goodness--I was a Birkenstock-clad, free-spirit graduate student, and he was a redneck Marine. He liked fishing, chewing Redman, and going mudding (or muddin' as they say in Florida). I liked reading books, watching foreign films, and napping.
One thing we both liked, fortunately, was dancing--two-step to be precise.
So, one night he and his friends came to the place where I was taking two-stepping lessons with my friend. It was sort of a yuppie-ish, urban-cowboy kind of place that they typically avoided (because they were the real thing). For some reason they gave it a try that night.
I love the way Mike first told me of that encounter. He said, "I saw you standing there with your friends, and your jeans were all torn and frayed at the bottom, and the soles were coming off your boots, and you were just laughing and having a good time, and I said to myself, 'Now, there's a girl without a lot of money.'"
That's right. He picked me because I looked happy and poor. (I was, actually.)
I didn't notice him or his friends that night, but they came back a week later, and we danced. Good old-fashioned country dancing. Two-step, swing, and waltz. George Straight and Alan Jackson. The real deal.
I loved that he wore snap-button shirts, had an accent, and was so polite. (Not to mention the rather impressive biceps I could feel when I placed my hand on his arm to waltz.) When I told him I was in graduate school and he asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, I responded, "What do I want to do? I want to knit and bake cookies. Unfortunately that doesn't pay." Apparently that sealed the deal as far as he was concerned.
Our first date was to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C..
The night I first met him, we was wearing a striking black cowboy hat and looked like a cross between George Straight and Patrick Swayze. When he came to pick me up for the date, he was wearing the lovely hat in the picture above.
It was a test.
I think he was trying to make sure I wasn't some prissy woman who would fuss at him about his clothes. (I guess my crumbling boots weren't evidence enough.) Anyway, I passed the test. Nary a word about the dog hat. (True confessions: I was actually thinking that as long as he was wearing that awful hat, I could pretty much have him--and his great arm muscles--to myself.)
After we were married and the hat mysteriously went missing, my single friends would often ask me how I managed to find such a great guy.
My response was and always will be, "You have to be willing to look past the hat."
I think God might be messing with me. Two days after writing in tears about my gradually emptying nest, I got a request from a friend to take a trip with her. To Southeast Asia.
This summer a group of my friends, some just starting out and others, like me, with a bit more "experience," read a book together by Jennie Allen called Anything. The book is an accounting of what led her and her husband to pray the prayer that she says unlocked her God and her soul. The prayer was simply, "Anything, Lord. I'm in."
It was interesting for our group to discuss, because the group was composed half of young women preparing to leave the nest, and half of women whose nests were emptying. To a woman, we were all on the cusp of a monumental life transition. All of us were asking, "what am I supposed to do with my life?"
"Anything" is a prayer we all would benefit from praying, but most fear, because telling God "anything" means He could ask....well, ANYTHING, and most of us are pretty comfortable. As comfy North Americans we tend to think in self-preserving terms, fearing that if we surrender and say, "anything," God will ask us to give things up or do something really big. Big as in sell-your-home-and-move-to-Africa big.
I honestly thought I was pretty down with the whole "Anything" concept. I had just the year before gathered some activist runners and put on a virtual 5k to raise money for an organization I love called She is Safe, and was ramping up for the second annual. Not huge, but out of my comfort zone.
It's a funny thing about stepping out of your comfort zone. It often takes you even further out.
Like to Southeast Asia.
I have to confess, my first response was not, "ANYTHING, Lord!"
More like, "ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!"
You have to understand. When I think of adventurous travel, I think Europe, or at least a country where I have an inkling of a chance at communicating--at least the same ALPHABET for heaven's sake. I mean, I went to Haiti during a cholera outbreak and political rioting, but at least they speak some French there. And it's in the same general hemisphere. My mental awareness of the globe sort of stops at France.
Also, this would involve flying over LOTS of open water--and I get panic attacks on a paddle board.
Truthfully, I have a plethora of really good reasons to say, "Not this trip."
Like justifying spending $2500 on myself--right before Christmas--when I've got two kids in college, every vehicle has 200,000 miles on it (and we don't do car payments), my students are sliding together down to the ends of our lopsided couches, and my sweet husband is working is tail off trying to make it all happen.
And speaking of my husband: His job takes him out of town half of every month. We live on a farm, so going while he's gone means leaving the farm without a farmer, but going while he's home means giving up the precious little time I have with him.
Oh, and then there's that little section of the travel planning pamphlet that addresses their policy for hostage situations. I'm reading about how they'll handle the unlikely event that I get taken hostage--and just the other day I was telling my daughter's friend about how I AVOID LEFT-HAND TURNS if possible because they are more dangerous. What's wrong with this picture?
Still...every single objection I have can be summed up in this equation: Guilt + Fear = NO
But I have been pleading for over a year with people to please give a darn about the plight of women and girls in parts of the world where they are treated as commodities or burdens. This is a chance to go and see the beginning stages of the creation of a Transformation Group that could impact generations of communities in the areas we'll visit.
I'll have an opportunity in a tiny way to enter into the lives of women and children living in extreme poverty who earn money by separating out recyclables, and maybe, just maybe be able to communicate to them that in them I see dignity, value and the fingerprints of God. It's a chance to see with my eyes, feel with my heart, touch with my hands, and then share with my words.
Plus, the fact that it seems so impossible makes it a just little irresistible. What kind of God story might this be if God makes the impossible possible?
Here's the great thing about "Anything:" I am realizing (at least at this stage in the game), I don't have to say, "Absolutely" to this one thing just yet...I simply have to say, "As You wish," and surrender it to Him--come what may.
"If we allow people to be human and God to be God, the church has a fighting chance. If you show up brave and true, and leaders show up brave and true, if you own your place and I own mine, the kingdom will break through in every possible way. God is big and good enough to lead us all, and together we just might see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." -- Jen Hatmaker, in For the Love
This Sunday marks a change in the life of my church. We're changing our name. It's a big deal for some-- and not such a big deal for others (me). A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, after all. This has been my church family since moving to Florida in 1998, so I know it intimately. It's a biggish church, Southern Baptist in denomination, and, like any other church of any size or denomination, we're often times a hot mess. But this hot mess is my family, and even if I sometimes feel aggravated to the point of distraction, I love them.
For me, there is much fuel for aggravation, but I think the irritation has a fair amount to do with the fact that I'm a Montana girl, and this is the South. Being so close to Miami, this band of believers is an eclectic blend of Deep Dixie South mixed with a fiery dose of Spicy Latin Zing Both come with their fair share of attitude and issues, bless them. (We from the Northwest, of course, we have zero issues or attitudes. Not.) Suffice it to say that I am jeans and T-shirt in a land where the choices are panty-hose and sensible dresses or flamboyant frills and spike heels. I'm the proverbial square peg, and the holes in Florida are either round or triangular. Consequently, it's not always what you would call comfortable for me here. As you can see, these are not really doctrinal aggravations. Just personal challenges.
My church is also proudly a Southern Baptist church, and I am a product of a "non-denominational" faith influence, so I don't necessarily find the term Baptist something to be proud of (or ashamed of, for that matter). We're all Christians, so Jesus should be the only thing we're proud of. Anyhow, because of the difference in my background, my church has dearly held traditions and practices that I have to confess drive me just the teeniest bit nuts. In these seventeen years, there have been many times when I have disagreed deeply with the way things were run or attitudes that were held. (In fairness, when we first joined the church, we knew exactly what we were getting. Not to mention the fact that I joined them; they didn't join me.) Still, there have been several occasions when the differences led me to consider finding another church family...one where I fit better.
Except, here's the thing:
As itchy as it can sometimes feel to be a black sheep, this is my family, and you don't just quit your family because they occasionally make you crazy. Ultimately, it's not about my preferences or my opinions. Nearly every thing that makes me nuts is a non-essential in terms of eternity. Even though I might do things differently if I ran the church (which is NEVER gonna happen, by the way, so you can breathe easy as far as that goes), there has never been a doubt in my mind that our leaders love Jesus and love people. I may have disagreed with some actions or decisions, but any time that I have looked beyond the action to the heart of the person, what I see there is love.
Sure, we have a tendency to bicker and wound and judge and sometimes behave selfishly, but this family also loves big and cares for the hurting and offers grace in abundance. And here's a newsflash: EVERY closely knit gathering of flawed humans--religious or otherwise--is going inflict some wounds.
That's why community is risky. People are just messy.
While the official church priorities may not always be the same ones I have, this church body--through the lives of individual members--is reaching into the world and our neighborhoods without fanfare or grand production. As individual members of a bigger body, we are making a difference in many ways, some that I am aware of (foster care, community service camps, pregnancy centers, teaching ESL, restoration homes for victims of trafficking, care and service for sick or invalid friends) as well as others I probably can't even begin to imagine. Knowing that, it's really not necessary for the church policy to cover every type of ministry I find vital--because the people of the church are living their lives in such a way that loving the world doesn't require church staff or an official program. I kind of appreciate that the church leadership doesn't have to be in charge of every single act of ministry. I like the fact that as a church community we can come to church to increase our learning, worship together, share our passions and ideas, support one another and then GO OUT and love the world.
So here's my cry: They are not perfect, but this is my family.
May we grow in humility, wisdom, transparency, intimacy and courage because we strive to love like Jesus.
Jesus, give us humble hearts to hear and respond to truth. May each person engage in a way that is brave and true, and may each leader humbly show up and lead in a way that is brave and true. Let us each own our place and give others the freedom and grace to own theirs. May we as a body be intricately and openly part of Your Church in the world and not a separate entity with our own agenda. May we allow one another to be flawed and may our love for one another come from Your Spirit in such a way that we can see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Happy Launch Day, Crosslife Church. I really do love you.
I’ve spent the last ten years giving assignments to other people; this assignment is for me.I’m calling it "Project 365"--the goal is to get one year's worth of posts (365). Even if it takes me five years.
This is a completely arbitrary day to begin this project. It’s not the first of the year. It’s not the first of the month. It’s not even a Monday. Perhaps it’s a heart thing. Despite my classes starting on Tuesday, today was my last day of "mama" summer.
Today the last of my two “Gators” moved back up to the university, marking the official, this-is-really-it-folks, end of summer. The first to go back to school left on Wednesday. I am not actually this one’s mama, but I was for the summer, so the separation is just as hard.
For the most part, I am glowing with a rush of gratitude for the summer we had. It was a summer filled with lots of hard work, but also two blissful, relaxing and long-over due family vacations. It was a blessed and slow-paced time of making things right, restoring broken places, and reveling with deep appreciation in the weirdness that is us.
Now it’s over, and this year that feels particularly significant.
I am delighted with where each of my young people is at the start of this new year. My oldest, Katie, and our sweet Grace began the summer fragile, exhausted by adulthood, and anxious about life, but both returned to school with greater peace, direction, and confidence in themselves and their plans. I felt grateful and thrilled to see the work that this summer had done in them, and I am excited for their year ahead.
Those who remained on the farm are moving forward just as much as the two who will have their own apartments. My free-spirit Hallie is working three jobs, going to college, and absolutely blowing my mind, because this is the girl who was content to stay at home, create beautiful things, and daydream. My baby, my almost man, is about to take college classes as a high school senior (pray for us) while beginning a new job and filling in as the stand-in man and lifter of heavy things when his Daddy’s away. It’s a sweet place for a mama to be, standing on the sidelines cheering as her young-uns charge into the game with determination. So, yeah, I am beyond grateful with where we are ending this summer.
Still, I gotta say, the transition back to school feels especially momentous. This year I realize that--as of today--what Jen Hatmaker dubbed “The Family Years” are essentially over. All my offspring are finding their own ways into the world brilliantly, but I'm acutely aware that those ways always lead eventually out of the nest--for good, if we've done our jobs right.
We’ll always be family and always love and enjoy each other, and it will be good. But we will never live all together in the same way again. I realize this is a good thing; it was actually the end-goal of this whole clumsy child-rearing thing all along. For now, though, I’m sitting here blubbering (thank you, Christy Nockels for providing the accompaniment), and I feel the need to mourn—just for a minute.
Because we Odells do FAMILY really well.
I know the passing of this stage will lead us into a new one that is beautiful and rewarding in unimaginable ways, but—just for this evening—I’m going to lean into my happy-sad tears and take the time to say a proper goodbye.