Roots and Wings

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I watch them. And I see them growing up.
I listen to them. And I hear their ideas.
I touch them. And I am reminded every time of the miracle of life.
I smell them. And I breathe deep as I try to not forget what they smell like.
I sense the change in our mother child relationship.
I am fully aware.

Like a turning of the calendar on the next season of their lives. They don’t need me in the same ways they’ve needed me for a decade. But, they still need me. Maybe more than ever, but differently.

We gave them roots. Deep roots that have wound their way into the fertile soil of their hearts.

We’ve read stories.
Prayed together.
Traveled together.
Walked together.
Broke bread together.
Played together.
Cried and laughed together.

But, most of all, we’ve just been present with them. Stewarding them in the way of life. Taking advantage of every teachable moment, trying not to create robots who don’t question us. They have had the space to question and ponder. Seek and discover.

The seeds we’ve planted along the way are beginning to grow. We can see the fruit of the long nights and the full days. The hours spent around the table of life have multiplied in ways I can’t enumerate. And I don’t know if I want to. It would take the mystery out of who they are becoming.

The winds are shifting. My heart knows and senses that I am becoming, too. Becoming a different lighthouse in their lives. I’m beginning to give them space. A different kind of space. More space to make mistakes and suffer the consequences of their actions without trying to protect them from every struggle in life. Hurt and disappointment will be inevitable. As their mother, I know this. It grieves me, but I can’t prevent pain in their lives, just like I can’t control what happens to them. It’s not easy to embrace this. But it is good for them and for me. It has to happen this way.

God used a dear friend just this week to open my eyes to this shift in my role as their mama. I have been their anchor, even as I have been teaching them to depend on their Creator for every single thing.

They have roots that anchor them. Now, it is time to help them find their wings.

As we start our 4th year of home school this week, I am deeply reminded of how little time I have with them. I want them to soar. I want to embrace them right where they are. As their mama who has diligently watered their roots, I want to be their mama who will get out of the way and let them flap their wings.

They will crash.
They will run out of gas.
They will run off the runway at times.

Our home, their nest, will always be a reminder to them of their roots, but it is time to fly.

“A bird is safe in its nest – but that is not what its wings are made for.” ? Amit Ray

Addicted to Pixels

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Something had gone horribly wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something wasn’t right. It was almost as if someone had cast a spell on my children. They were not themselves. Walking zombies. Eyes glazed over. Emotions a wreck. Sensitive to everything and tears came easily. Mouthy and disrespectful. And we’re not talking teenagers. We’re talking a 9 and a 6-year-old.

I first noticed the mood swings. Both of my kids are pretty mellow. But, during the past summer, both of them were so moody and hard to deal with. I chalked it up to the lack of routine summer often brings.

Then I noticed the lack of motivation. Neither of them wanted to do anything but sit around and watch television, watch videos on the laptop, or play games on the iPad. This concerned me because both of my kids are normally very active and creative. Typically, their energy is hard to match. I assumed it was the heat summer brings and they didn’t want to go outside and play.

Next, I started realizing they were not playing with their toys that didn’t require charging. Like dolls, LEGOs, books, games, puzzles, etc. Their play set in the backyard was covered in dust. I don’t remember them swinging on the swings all summer long. I would force them outside and they would sit on the porch and stare out into the yard.

Lastly, I noticed the aimless way they went through their days. Almost zombie like. This freaked me out. Nothing I did could snap them back to reality. They would stare off into space. I am not exaggerating. It was almost as if they were focused on something in another realm so intently that they couldn’t do life. They were sleepwalking through reality.

I asked both of them multiple times, what’s wrong? What are you thinking about? The answers I got from both of them were, “I don’t know,” or “I’m tired.” As a mom who spends a lot of time with her children, I knew something was not right. Something was out of balance. I was ready to take drastic measures. But, I couldn’t figure out what to do.

During the school year, things were fine. It seemed as if the unstructured summer months created a monster that I had yet been able to identify. I couldn’t wait for school to start back. I was hoping the structure and routine would help them snap back to their old selves. Surely this wasn’t permanent? I don’t like zombies!

We started school in early August. And it was hard. I mean really hard. All three of us cried most days. They would rush through their work. Callie would read her Nancy Drew books, but that was about it. Sean would just stare off into space if I wasn’t sitting next to him helping him focus. I was getting worried.

Everyone I talked with about my concerns thought I was being overly concerned. I felt like I was losing my kids and I had no idea what to do! No one could see what I was seeing.  We slogged through the first 3 weeks of school.

Then we left for Disney World. I was hoping and praying the change in scenery would help everyone. I randomly announced on the way to Florida that “screen time” would be off-limits while we were at Disney. No computer, television, iPad, etc. Even mom and dad agreed to no “screen time”. It was going to be a fun-filled week of adventure. I couldn’t wait!

Disney World was amazing. More than any of us could have imagined. I began to see glimpses of my kids pre-summer. They were energetic, creative, and most of all in touch with reality. Now, I know Disney World is not like real life, but my kids were slowly returning.

Vacation over, the kids played games on the iPad all the way home. Yes. ALL THE WAY HOME.

When we got back to NC, my zombies were back. Then, it hit me. FINALLY. The screens. The computer, iPad, and television. It is another reality and my kids have been spending way too much time in Pixel Land. They had been pixelated.

Indeed, something was terribly wrong and it was all my fault. My kids do what I allow them to do. I would never harm them on purpose, but what I allowed for several months in my home did harm them. And it all started out so innocuously. So much so that no one noticed until major changes had taken place.

Screens dramatically affect my kids. Their moods, their behavior, their minds, their lives. They  have a hard time coming back to the real world when they are asked to put the screens away.

As I thought about the past 3 to 4 months, it all began to make sense. They had limited screen time during the school year, but during the summer, those limitations were lifted by their loving and caring mother. I felt sick to my stomach. They didn’t do this to themselves. I allowed it to happen. But, this also meant that I had the power to stop it.

It was around 9pm on the Sunday night after we got back from Disney World and we were having our weekly family meeting. I announced that we would be screen free for the next week. You would have thought I announced we were moving to Antarctica. They both melted down and cried, “Why, mom? We didn’t play games or watch television all week at Disney!”

I explained to them why we were going to be screen free. After the tears stopped and they could hear me, they both settled down and shared what was on their hearts. Here are several observations they shared:

“Mom, when I play the iPad, I go into another orbit. I don’t know what happens to me.”
“I think Minecraft should be called Mindcraft because it affects my mind.”
“Playing electronics and watching TV all the time makes me feel almost mad.”
“It’s like I get sucked in. I can’t stop thinking about it even when I’m not playing it.”

Wow. I was the one in tears when we said our prayers and kissed good night. But, I knew something was about to change. And this change would be good for us. All of us.

The first week without screens went as expected, horribly. The withdrawals were intense. We were dealing with addiction. Addicted to pixels. What a revelation. And to think it was going on for so long beneath the radar of my watchful eyes. I felt violated by the pixelization of my children.

The second week without screens was much better. My eyes, now opened to this silent pixel invader, began to see glimpses of my kids. My real kids. Not the zombies who had been sleeping in my kids’ beds. They built forts in the back yard, LEGO masterpieces in the play room, and held tea parties for all of their stuffed animal friends. Both have read, painted, and created more in the past month than they did all summer.

During week three, we gave the screens back. With limitations. 30 minutes after school work had been completed and 30 minutes after dinner. This one hour daily total includes all screens, computer, iPad, and television. They set a timer and self-monitor.

But, the craziest thing of all? They don’t even ask for screen time anymore! This summer, they asked incessantly. ALL THE TIME.

Now, almost every night while we are saying goodnight and tucking them in, one of them will say, “Mom, I didn’t even use my screen time today! Wow, how did that happen?”

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It happened because your mom started paying attention. And gave you guidelines by which to live your life. I’ve apologized to both of them. Both have given me grace. But more than that, I have my kids back. My creative, outdoor loving, energetic kids. My house is a mess. The noise level while they are playing is almost deafening, but they are no longer sleepwalking through reality. They are fully aware of the world around them.

My kids, no longer addicted to pixels, are addicted to playing. That’s an addiction I can fully support without limitations!

 

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced something similar with your kids? I would love to hear from you!

Life Lessons from two 8-year-olds

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He’s a couple of months older, and she’s a couple of inches taller. But, they are generationally linked by their mothers who have shared many ups and downs in 38 years.

Last night, just before 9pm when most of the well wishers, huggers, and grief sharers had ambled their way through the family line, this pair of 8 year olds peered into the coffin. Side by side. All by themselves. Talking and agreeing. I could tell by their body language that something powerful was happening.

And I was a wreck on the inside as I watched them. Undone.

Undone by love. Undone by a couple of 8 year olds who were just tall enough to see this giant of a man resting. His soul already departed, his body here, but not for much longer.

Wrecked. What raced across my brain were lots of memories, but more than that this gap appeared in my mind as I watched my daughter and the son of my sister friend. This gap between a vibrant life well lived and the vibrant lives of two 8 year olds who knew each other before they breathed their first breath. Friends created by bonds deeper and greater than anything the world understands.

It left me breathless. A moment shared by two innocent souls who had no idea they were being watched. I could sense the Spirit hovering above them and Mr. Jerry last night. And I will never forget it. That memory will never leave me.

On the way home, I asked my 8-year-old what she and her friend were talking about. She said, “Nothing much, mama. I just told him that I was sorry that his papa died.”

I cried. She had no idea what was going on for me. After I could talk again, I said, “Callie, I’m proud of you for being there for your friend tonight. Don’t ever forget. We need each other.”

Earlier in the day, she had begged me to go to the wake. I didn’t know if it was best. But she won me over when she said, “Mama, G’s my friend and I want to be there for him.”

She knows. And I pray I never forget this life lesson: being there for your friends is the very best thing you can give them.

I’m still undone. I hurt for my sister friend who lost her daddy. I hurt for all the broken places and wounds we all carry. I know broken things can only heal when you let go of them. When you expose them to the Light.

May we be there. May we love well. May we never forget.

Sometimes 8 year olds know best.

Chew On This

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Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in parenting thus far have been when I’ve said no to something one of my children wanted to do. Because I thought I knew better or had more life experience.

Well, I almost did it again this week at the library, but instead I listened to my daughter’s plea and said yes…

My sweet 3rd grader could have a blog of her own. She is so full of ideas and loves to write and create. However, until this week, she would have told you that she didn’t like to read. She would have told you that it was a waste of her time. Which is the very reason we go to the library every other week. Mama wins this one every time.

We check out books on all sorts of topics, typically leaving with 30 or more books between both of my kids. And of course the 3 or 4 I throw in with theirs. This week was no different until we were walking to the checkout station.

“Mom, I want to get this book. It looks really interesting.”

I was struggling to carry our haul for the day to the checkout station and I flippantly said, “No, baby, we’ve got enough books don’t you think?”

“No, I really want this one. Besides, you might like it, too.” She pressed a little harder and tried using her negotiating skills to reel me in.

I stopped walking and said, “Let me see it.”

No joke, it was a 259 page book entitled “Chew on This”. Here it is:

I chuckled on the inside as I listened to my daughter fighting for her right to read a book that caught her eye.

As I listened to her words, I also heard something else. Her desire to read something she picked out. Something that wasn’t forced on her. Something that caught her eye.

Lastly, I listened to the little voice inside of me that said, “just say yes”.

“Yes, Callie, you can get it and I am sure you will learn a lot of interesting things.”

“Awesome! Thank you mom!” she shouted. In the library nonetheless…

She has since then read over 120 pages of “Chew on This” and has said over 30 times, “I am so glad we don’t eat at ____________!”

But most of all, she is reading. Something she has never ever enjoyed. It has always been something she checks off her daily agenda. I have no idea if it will last, but today I cherish her newfound love of reading. I’ve heard many say that those who dislike reading are reading the wrong things.

Maybe my activist daughter will continue to soak up page after page as she wades through life. Few things make me happier than a good book. Well, maybe my children reading a good book!

I’m wading through waters, too. Parenting waters. Sometimes calm and other times treacherous. I’m reading a few good books of my own and I’m learning as well. As Frederick Buechner said: ““Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” 

I’m seeing that my job as a parent is so much bigger than I can ever do on my own. And sometimes the best thing I can do is get out of their way.

Parenting is more about space than fences.

More about letting them make their own mistakes instead of trying to fix them before they can learn from them.

More about letting them experience life and less about keeping them sheltered.

More about letting them go instead of holding them back.

And in these moments, they fly. They soar. They fall. They get back up.

They learn they’ve got what it takes…and so do I.

 

 

Not For the Faint of Heart

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He holds on tightly to his yellow #2 like it’s his life line. His eyes focused intensely on his math problems. Silence. When he finishes his 3 pages, he looks up, towards me, but never connecting his soul windows with mine.

“Mom…are you mad at me?”

“No, baby. Why would I be mad at you?”

“Because you yelled….at Callie.” His little heart aching and his mind not understanding.

“I didn’t yell, Sean. I raised my voice the 5th time I asked Callie to get her work done. She was goofing off and not being serious about her school work.”

“But it felt like you yelled at me.” This time his and my sea blue eyes meet and a wave of emotion knocks me down.

I let the tears roll. So does he. Callie is watching all of this transpire. I feel like a failure. Sean is heart broken. And Callie is finally doing her work. For goodness sakes…

My kids are so different. And they need to be parented differently.

Sean is tenderhearted and looking at him the wrong way elicits a meltdown. I can totally relate.

Callie is my firecracker. She is fierce and determined. A natural born leader. And she will argue with me or you or anyone willing to get into the ring until she gets you to say yes to something. Anything.

And honestly, it wears me out sometimes.

One of my biggest fears as a mom is crushing my children’s spirits. I want to shepherd their hearts and love them according to their bent or temperamental God-given design.

And sometimes, when I do this, one of them will get caught up in the aftermath of a parenting tornado as I try to think quickly on my feet and utter the prayer of my friend Peter, “HELP!”

Can you relate?!

Being a mom is by far the hardest and most amazing calling I’ve ever accepted. I know I won’t get it all right, but I pray I am humble enough to apologize and ask for forgiveness when I’m wrong. I also pray I am firm enough with my children, yet shepherd their hearts so they can grow and develop their own God-given ways.

And if not, Sean will keep me straight…or at least we can cry together! HA!

{Merry Christmas 2013}

The greatest gifts can’t be purchased. They are meant to be opened every single day of our lives. Time with each other doing the things we enjoy the most. Talking about and doing things that will never make the front page of the New York Times or highlight the pixels of your screen as you read the latest Huffington Post update.

I am blessed beyond measure. The best gifts this Christmas have already been opened. I am grateful for the greatest and most powerful relationship in my life. Jesus is the reason I am. May His coming this Christmas season create wonder and fill you with joy.  From our home to yours, Merry Christmas. 

These pictures were taken recently during a photo shoot at Pullen Park. My husband was working and a dear friend volunteered to capture some photos for my website. We snuck in a few of the kids as well. They were more than willing to oblige!

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When you wonder if your words matter…

As a wife, mama, daughter, friend, life coach, artist, speaker, writer, I use a lot of words. I’ve always been told I have a lot to say. I wonder if that’s the positive twist on you talk too much.

As I’ve gotten older and maybe a little wiser, I talk a little less and listen better, with intentions. Not with an agenda, but with ears to hear what hearts are saying and needing. But you never arrive in the game of life. And I am continuing to learn.

I have a great teacher right now…a little boy in my life who has a powerful voice. He’s been in speech therapy since he was 3.5 years old. Two years ago this month, we started with our amazing speech therapist, Ms. Renee. Little did I know that she would become such an integral part of all of our lives. We love her like she is family. What we pay her will never be enough.

She has helped Sean in so many ways. I have learned a lot from her as well. Most importantly, I have learned that our words matter. All of them. All of the time.

Sean is a clutterer, meaning he talks so fast that all of his words clutter together. Not only did he get my phenotype when it comes to looks, but he also got my linguistic speeding tendencies.

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I remind Sean almost daily during our home school routine, “Slow down, buddy. Your words are important and I want to hear all of them.”

He smiles, shakes his head, and replies with, “I know mommy, I know!”

Not only does my sweet little speed talker have a powerful voice, he also has a powerful memory. He has absorbed so much this year in Kindergarten just being present and listening to what I am teaching to both him and Callie. One word: SPONGE!!

He lies in bed at night saying: “If you have 17 and you take away 9, you have 8. So, that means 9 plus 8 is 17.”

Eating his snack at the table while I’m wiping down counters in the kitchen he says: “If you have 10 batman people and you take away 7 batman people you only have 3 batman people left.”

Yes, he loves math. And for that I am grateful, but even more so, I am so humbled by his ability to use his words to speak love in a way that touches my soul.

On the way home from our mommy/son date this week, he said: “You know what makes me happy mommy? My family because we love each other so much…”

Yes, son. My sweet boy. My {now} child who will one day be a husband and daddy and amazing man of God. There’s power in our words. The power of life and death. I pray you will always use your God-given voice to give life and share love with all those around you.

Friends, your words matter. Every single one of them. People are always listening because we can all use more encouragement and less negativity. More courage and less comparing. More hope and less I told you so.

Who in your life could use some encouragement? Pick up the phone. Send them a text. Meet them for coffee. I can think of no better gift to give someone than the gift of your time and your words.

Guest Post: Callie Branch, age 8

I am so excited about my guest poster today. She is my very own 8 year old daughter, Callie!

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We recently read “The Secrets of Mrs. Snickle’s Class”:

Both of my students loved it! It gave us an opportunity to discuss secrets, confidentiality, and things we talk about in private. Both of my kids know that we don’t normally keep secrets, but we can keep things private. There is a big difference in our family!

As part of Callie’s assignment, she had to write a book report. She asked me if she could write a blog post instead. Why, of course! Here are a few thoughts from Callie about secrets:

 

“Secrets”

Secrets are everywhere.
You do not know if your brother has one.

Secrets are very fragile.
You can kill a secret if you tell someone what it is.

Do you have a secret?
Wait! Don’t tell!

Don’t tell anyone but me!
Wait! No, no! I am joking.

I have a secret, but I’m not telling anyone!

 

So proud of Callie’s poem. She loves to express herself using words and all sorts of crafty goodness. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

 

How do you see the world?

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Anthony and I see the world differently. I am global, he is linear. I start 36 projects and finish 2. He starts 1 project and sticks with it until he finishes. Together, we make a great team.

My children are as different as night and day, too. One recent example made us well away of Sean’s beautiful way of “seeing” the world around him. 

During Sean’s 5-year-old well care check, the nursing assistant was checking his vision using the standard eye chart. She asked him to cover his right eye with one hand and read the letters:

“O, K, H, D, N, R C, S”

Then she asked him to cover his left eye and read the letters:

“O, K, H, D, N, R C, S”

“Great!” she exclaimed. “Now, do it with both eyes.”

Sean proceeded to cover BOTH eyes and said, “But, I can’t see anything like this!”

We all cackled and Sean smiled with such innocence. Such confusion.

He did exactly what he was asked to do. Why were we laughing at him?

I grabbed my sweet linear thinking little boy and bear hugged him. He started laughing, too, and said, “she meant to look with both eyes!”

I looked deep into his crystal blue eyes. Yes, my sweet boy. That’s what she meant. But, I was thinking about so much more than an eye chart. I was thinking about how all of us see the world differently. Somehow, in our boxed-in and color-coded world, there is one right way to see the world.

This thought lingered with me for days.

God created all of us with different ways of seeing the world. Introverted or extroverted. Global or linear. Black and white or technicolor. With nice neat boxes or wide open spaces.

Why is one way better than another?

In God’s magnificent creative effort, the world is plenty big enough for more than one way of thinking and seeing the beauty around us.

These are a few ways I try to see the world with both eyes wide open:

1. Not everyone thinks like you or me. Give others the gift of grace. Their way might work, too.

2. When my way and your way is best and we know it to be fact, wait before you act. Pause and listen to others. You may learn something in the process.

3. Don’t try to control every little detail. They will work themselves out in time.

4. Know what your non-negotiables are and stick to them. 

5. Make sure you live up to the same expectations you expect others to live up to.

6. The relationship is almost always more important than the disagreement, unless it involves a non-negotiable.

7. Always expect the best from others. You might be surprised by them and their best. 

Would love to hear from you! What other tips would you add to the list above?

Hope your world is full of unexpected joy today!

 

Expectations

You never know as a parent if anything you say today will have any impact tomorrow. God gave me a small but powerful gift today. He showed me not only are little ears listening, but little people are learning and choosing and living out the things they hear.

During our home school morning routine, Sean was working on writing his numbers. He was slacking off on his 4’s, his least favorite number to write, when I over heard Callie say:

“Sean, mommy is expecting great things from us. You can write better than that!”

This from my 8-year-old who seems to have cotton balls in her ears most days. This from my daughter who likes to press me to the wall when I ask her to do something. This. Yes, this today.

I am expecting great things from them. I wrote this on the board yesterday before we started school:

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Way down at the bottom. Yes, that’s it. And that is what my sweet girl chose to believe and encouraged her brother to live up to it. We usually live up to expectations…

As the old adage goes, “if you think you can, you probably will and if you think you can’t, you probably won’t”!

What are you believing you can and can’t do today? Whatever you are believing may be your reality tomorrow. I have great expectations of YOU!!!