My mom adventures in Fort Collins

Judging Judies, you know the type

It’s all part of adulthood to make decisions based on what you think is best. I find myself having difficulty with people’s viewpoints that seem narrow and restrictive. When a person I know may consider herself open-minded and loving, and then shares an opinion that I find bordering on prejudice and mean-spiritedness, I think, “Wow.” What’s right, what’s wrong? I get so confused sometimes. I find myself wanting to judge people… for judging other people!

Here’s what I saw on Facebook last Friday. A “friend” posted:

So, it’s really okay to buy your Valentine’s chocolates wrapped in velveteen packaging with food stamps while purchasing your cigarettes with cash all while making me wait 10 minutes behind you in line to buy my groceries??? I must have this system all wrong.

And in my mind, I had a flash of what I would have LOVED to write under this person’s post to dismiss this self-righteous attitude. But I realized that her public opinion on poverty, nicotine addiction and welfare fraud were not likely to be swayed by my comment. In person, I guess that I would have said something like, “You don’t really know the whole story,” or something of that nature, but I don’t know that this would translate to something public like Facebook.

And then I remembered my friend Mama T’s words on the subject:

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

I want to try to think better of people who are judging others. If they judge others so harshly, just think of how hard they are judging themselves. Geesh, must be a hard gig to live under such scrutiny.

I think this just about sums it up:

I will try to love better, judge less, and allow others their moment with Jesus. Tell me what you do to get through your day when you feel like you’re surrounded by a bunch of Judgey Judies. I need some wisdom here.


Fair enough, independence seekers

It’s been a snowy winter and I can’t help feeling attached to home, wanting to hunker down and avoid the elements. The snow is gorgeous when the sun makes it sparkle just so, but today is gray and unshiny. And even when it is magical, I enjoy it through the window just fine. I’ve read books, done some crafting, drank lots of coffee and tea, enjoyed some soup, watched movies–all the many perks of a snowy winter.

AND I’ve been taking jaunts in the neighborhood–to get Scout to and from school, not for fun or anything like that.

The walk looks something like this:

IMG_4518Well, the walk looks like that when it’s a good walk. Sometimes the walk looks like this:

IMG_4542You see, it’s cold outside. And not everyone enjoys that part about the cold. For some, it would seem, Snow=fun AND Cold=misery. You can understand the conundrum, right? Feeling compelled to play in the snow, one is suddenly surprised about 15 minutes into all that fun that the white fluffy snow turns oddly harsh and uncomfortable. Ruby’s relationship with snow is further compounded by her love of  snacking on the stuff (the pretty white snow, NEVER the yellow or dirty snow). Imagine her face when she realizes the stuff is driven up her sleeves and into her boots… Well, I think you can SEE the look on her face in the above photo. 

The other day, Ruby and I were walking back from school after dropping Scout off. I was trying to keep her occupied with a quasi-snowball fight, when I noticed an elderly neighbor struggling to shovel her driveway. I asked Ruby to wait for a second while I approached this woman. I had no previous contact with this lady, and she had her back turned to me, so I tried to call out, “Excuse me” so I wouldn’t startle her. When she turned around, she was surprised (I doubt she heard me coming). Our exchange went something like this:

  • Excuse me? Can I do that for you?
  • What? [She looked mortified.] Why would I want you to do that?
  • [I probably looked rather startled.]
  • [She continued.] Well, there’s ice over there, and you could fall and slip.
  • [I glanced down at my suitable boots.] Well, all the same, I’d be happy to help you.
  • [The woman pauses.] No. I don’t want you to. I need the exercise.
  • [I back away.] Fair enough.

After this odd exchange, I turned back and collected Ruby. Ruby then said, “She didn’t want to have a snowball fight with us?”

Ruby’s sweet comment pulled me out of my fog and I laughed. We continued walking back home through the snow. All the same, I couldn’t help pondering why this communication was so abrupt and uncomfortable. I surmised that this woman must look forward to snow shovelling; perhaps shovelling snow is her greatest love in life. I tried not to take it too personally, but I had to admit: I got my feelings hurt. I am a helper/pleaser-type, and, if I’m honest, I would have really enjoyed helping this woman clear her drive. That she rebuffed my offer did sting a bit.

I shared this story with Cory, with my mom, with a close friend, and, feeling compelled by something at church, I shared it with my close-knit Crosswalk community (though, afterwards I had this regret that I shouldn’t have shared it because it didn’t really relate to what we were talking about all that much, oh well, they’re churchy people, so they have to forgive me for being tangential).

In sharing this, people seemed to have these general thoughts:

  • The lady is a crabbyappleton
  • I shouldn’t take it personally
  • Perhaps this woman is struggling with aging and she wants to assert her independence over something she can still do
  • [And my favorite] Maybe the AARP is advertising about a scam where a stranger approaches you and asks to shovel your driveway, then falls and sues you for all you’re worth

But here’s what I know, after wrestling with my ego: The exchange I had with this woman was purposeful. I’d even go so far as to say she was sent to me to deliver a powerful message. This woman was a stranger to me, and I offered her help. By suggesting that she needed help, I didn’t intend to undermine her abilities but perhaps that’s how it was perceived. When she said that she didn’t want my help, I respected that. It hurt a bit, but I respected her wishes and I backed away. Incidentally, I drove by her house later that day and saw that her entire driveway and walkway were clean as a whistle. She KNEW she could do it, she WANTED to do it, and she didn’t want my assistance.

You know who else this reminded me of?IMG_4537Yep, this girl.

My sweet girl. Scout is everything you would ever want in a little girl–sweet, kind, helpful, funny, creative–but, when she asserts her independence it is a Hummer not a VW bug coming down the street.

During the Crosswalk service that I attended, there was a parable of the 99 sheep retold as a modern parable of a Lost Emporer Penguin. The penguin was stranded far away from home and the community rallied to help it. Our pastor encouraged us to think of God’s love as the extravagant, abundant love that these strangers showered on this poor penguin, who misguidedly filled his belly with sand and required surgery to save his life.

What is life-saving to this penguin is the attentive love of those who found him stranded on the beach. But love is not limited to attention and assistance. What is life-saving to some, including my big girl, is a love that encourages her independence. My own need to “help” should not overshadow her need to assert her independence. My “helping” actually undermines her, rather than assists her.

Here’s my lesson: BACK AWAY, MOM. (In the nicest way possible.)

I must respect others autonomy and give them the space to complete their tasks without my help. I shudder to think… I’m THAT Mom, the one that hovers and tries to “help” when really I’m hindering.

Thank you, neighbor lady, for teaching me what I hope will be a valuable lesson. The extravagant, abundant love that I must give my children is to BACK OFF. This will sometimes look like allowing them to wield their own knives, wrap presents with an entire dispenser of tape, assemble their own homework packets without ever putting it in their backpacks, forget hats & gloves, dress themselves in inappropriate clothing, make a scrap heap of several reams of computer paper, make a mess in the kitchen and leave the caps off an infinite amount of markers, but it is love nonetheless.

21-Day Gratitude Challenge: Day 10

The prompt for today says, “Today, take a moment to recollect a piece of advice you received that helped you through a dark or challenging time.”

I’ve been given advice, and some I have taken. Most of all, I’ve been given patience and love, which is often better than advice. People in my life are very forgiving of the fact that I’m hard-headed and outspoken. There are two pieces of advice that I heard my entire childhood. They still remain, and they are still a challenge, but they are still very good advice.

  • Bite your tongue. (from my dad)
  • Be less critical. (from my mom)

Ironically, a strong-willed child with a highly legalistic definition of truth & honesty will interpret these as:

  • Bite your tongue unless a deep-seated sense of justice is threatened (Example: Confronting a colleague who has repeatedly failed to pitch in for a whole-office gift. )
  • Be less critical unless withholding criticism means you will deny “The Truth” (Example: Pointing out that your friend was late and kept you waiting.)

It has taken me a long time to figure out that my sense of security comes from feeling truthful and honest. I love equality, fairness, honor and integrity. I feel most in control when things are transparent. I have faith in The Truth–I feel like as long as I am honest, I can get through anything. If I have hurt someone’s feelings in the process of being honest, I do empathize with that person but I don’t belabor the issue because I take refuge in the the fact that it was The Truth. Even to this day, if I catch someone not being entirely truthful with me, it turns me inside out. Forget someone who outright lies to me–That’s the kinda heartbreak that I might write pathetic poems about. Should I sense even a slight injustice, I will often assert myself. Admittedly, I have a bit of a toddler’s perspective of justice.

This is all to say that I’ve struggled with The Truth. I’ve had to shelve my definition and accept that folks who lie, bend or distance themselves from the truth are not wrong per se, but they definitely have a different Truth than me. I’ve seen injustice and inequality, acknowledged them in my heart but due to circumstances I’ve not confronted the corruption.  The times in my life that have been the most challenging to The Truth are times where I’ve felt the most lonely and vulnerable.

When my sense of Truth is challenged, it is so hard to bite my tongue and be less critical. During the few times in my life when I have been able to follow this advice, I’ve felt at peace despite feeling as though I didn’t honor The Truth. In the end, The Truth (whether it be my version or another’s, or the REAL version which is somewhere in between) is bigger than all this right/wrong stuff. The Truth has big shoulders and I know that the Truth can handle a little confusion over what it is or is not.

For me, sometimes the right thing is to ignore my parents’ advice and speak up. At other times, I feel that keeping quiet doesn’t make me a silent observer, and it can mean that I choose to tell the Truth another way or another day. It can also mean that I humble myself to decide that I may not know the whole Truth, and I can suspend my sense of justice to pause and wait for the BIGGER Truth to be revealed.

Overall, I’m grateful for this advice, and I feel that this is the kind of advice that my mom & dad would still give me to this day: Bite your tongue & be less critical. I’ll keep trying.

Giving the gift of forgiveness

I have so many spiritual struggles. Don’t we all? My prayer life is practically non-existent, I have failed to find a meaningful way to connect with the service-oriented side of me for years, and lately “charity” has meant giving a teenager $5 when he comes to my door trying to sell coupons for the football team. I haven’t been the prayerful, loving, charitable person that I want to be in a long time. Or at least it feels like it. I need a soul-nourishing overhaul.

But that is not what this post is about. (Well, it is a little bit.)

What this post is really about is love. The love of a sweet, spiritual girl, and the gifts she gives me all the time.

This week, my oldest had her first day of kindergarten. I have been struggling with what to write about this momentous occasion. As far as I can tell, I’m supposed to think this is a bittersweet moment: my baby is all grown up and ready to set the world on fire. Me, as momma, I’m supposed to feel happy for her and proud of her, but also feel a bit of my heart break because there is no more denying that her babyhood is a thing of the past. This girl is growing up.

Insert obligatory smiley-faced photo here

Insert obligatory smiley-faced photo here

What can I say? I have to be different. That’s not the way it went down for me.

I do agree that it was bittersweet, but not for the reasons that you might think. Let’s start with sweet, because that’s easy. I felt sweet because I know that she’ll do well. She’s grown into such a kind and capable girl, with an amazing creative side and a truly grand ability to simply observe and soak it all in. I felt sweet because I personally love new adventures, and I’ve been hearing so many amazing things about our neighborhood school since we moved into our house three years ago. I felt sweet because my mornings can become purposeful again, and I will actually have some time to myself. But mostly I’m overcome with the bitter.

I’m bitter because this is the official end of our summer, and this is the beginning of a new schedule for us.  Where some families appear to feel rejuvenated by the beginning of a new school year and the routine that it provides, I feel the dark, suffocating choke-hold of this time of transition. Hmm, what’s a polite way to say this? “My sweet kindergartener finds adapting to a new routine rather challenging. ” She was a bucket of nerves before school started, and she told me more than a dozen times that she didn’t want to go. Though by all accounts she’s liking school now that the first-day jitters are behind her, she is not exactly a lovely person to be around. School is wearing her out, and she is constantly exhausted and hungry. She complained that school doesn’t offer nap-time, and she has not willingly taken a nap since infancy. Yesterday, she ate a hot-dog… for her third afternoon snack. Our house has become a roller-coaster of emotion, ranging from excitement to nerves to aggression to apologies.

There can be no amount of “The Kissing Hand” to diminish these struggles. As the saying goes, “You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You gotta go through it.” And excuse me if I just don’t like going through it.

I’m not delusional. I know that the world has bigger problems than adapting to a kindergarten routine, and I realize that I’m not the first mom to have this struggle. The logical piece of me is aware that we’ll get through it, but it’s just such a difficult time for me. My heart is breaking, but it has nothing to do with her babyhood ending. My heart is breaking because my child has such strong emotions and she’s still learning how to process them. Though by her own admissions she’s “tired,” or she want to “lie down,” she balks at the suggestion that we take some quiet time. She is awash in the feeling of what my friend calls “hangry”–hungry and angry. She acts difficult and aggressive, and then realizing she has hurt me or her sister, she quickly backpedals and apologizes.

“Momma, I’m so sorry.”

“What are you sorry for, honey?”

“Well, I’m sorry that I was acting so mean and being so crabby. I’m a bad kid.”

After the third exchange like this yesterday, I had to do something. My heart was so achy and breaky, that even Billy Ray wouldn’t be able to shake his mullet enough to do away with that kind of heartache.

I explained that she is not a bad kid. She is NEVER EVER a bad kid in my mind, because I KNOW that she is really truly a kind, loving kid. I explained that this was a hard time, and that her body is adjusting to this new schedule. I explained that her mind was working so hard to take in all of the new friends and experiences that it made her extra-tired. I explained that sometimes when we start something new, we don’t always sleep right and that makes us super-tired, too. And when we’re extra-super-tired, it’s so difficult to act our best.

But I had good news! The good news is: You can forgive yourself and start all over! You can do better next time. Isn’t that fantastic?

We talked a lot about forgiveness, and how God always forgives us. I told her that with God, you have a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance… even forever chances!

Forever chances. I love that. (I learned that from my I-wish-I-knew-you-in-real-life soul sister, Glennon Doyle Melton, because I’m reading her book Carry On, Warrior right now.) And I told my sweet girl again that I know that she’s kind, and she is NEVER EVER a bad kid. And God knows that, too. God knows that better than even I do. And my sweet girl, who found prayer to be so soothing last year in moments of anxiety, remembered that she could talk to Jesus and ask him for help.

And after this whole conversation, I was thinking, “You are brilliant, my dear!” Does this ever happen to you? My child reminded me that the advice that I was giving her is truly the advice that I need to be following myself. You know who wants to help me become a more patient mother? Jesus does. And all I have to do is ask. Maybe tomorrow, I will do better than today. Maybe the next day, I will do better than tomorrow. But each day, if I get angry or I get crabby (which I always do), and if I am hard on the people I love the most (which I always am), I can pray. I can ask for help. I just have to stop and forgive myself, and try again because I have forever chances.

So, here’s to love and prayer and forgiveness. And here’s to the bittersweet, because often the most worthwhile experiences do have a fair amount of growing pains. We’ll get there… I’ll keep praying.

I wanna be a dinker, at least as I define it

“I’m back,” I say to no one in particular.

I love to write, but sometimes it is simply inertia. This object was in motion, and stayed in motion. (Alternatively, one could argue perhaps that this object was at rest and remained at rest.) This summer has been a bounty of pool time, camping trips, late bedtimes and lazy mornings. All this time, I have not given any voice to the many blog posts that occurred to me while I was watching my six-year-old blossom from a life-preserver-wearing-floater to a full-fledged-swimmer, while I witnessed my three-and-a-half-year-old start writing a semi-legible name, or while I spent time trying to manifest the moose that would make my wildlife sighting all-time-best list.

Yes, it is August.

Fortunately, something happened and I was inspired to write again—not in my head this time, but here at the keyboard. My evening was simple enough: I attended a small-group gathering at church, and then came home and read this fantastic essay online. The perfect storm of thought-provoking content, a moment to reflect, and the power to read. (Sorry, I had a SuperWhy moment.)

The church group was pondering the wisdom of the “Wow” of Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow, a book on what Lamott describes as the three essential prayers, and the essay (if you don’t have time to click over) is about the immense gratitude that a mother feels once she sees her daughter’s tendency to move slowly through life as a gift not a burden. What a blessing this wisdom is to me at this particular juncture in my life.

You see, I too have a daughter who goes through life at her own pace. To be fair, I do not always feel grateful for this characteristic, but I think that tonight was trying to tell me something.

In the past, I have called my daughter “a dinker.” Not at all nice, right? I mutter under my breath that she’s always “dinking.” I looked up the definition of “dink” in the dictionary, and it actually doesn’t reflect what I think the definition is, so I would like to one-up Mr. Webster, and offer this: Dink (v.) to move slowly, to putter around, to lose track of time while trying to complete a task, and this also: Dinker (n.) one who dinks. Example: “Kiddo, could you quit dinking around and come here and brush your teeth already?”

My Wow moment, one that I realized recently, was that this child has indeed given me the joy of seeing life in a new way. Countless times, in fact. In the past, I have found it cliché when people wax philosophical about the insight gained by “seeing things through a child’s eye.” Well, as they say, one person’s cliché is another person’s wisdom. I’m switching sides.

The specific story that came to mind was of a series of events that happened two summers ago. At the time, Scout had just turned four. Cory created a garden box for her in the back yard, approximately four feet by four feet. She was thrilled. This was her garden, and she was growing things in her garden. She planted the seeds and even occasionally weeded. (The sprinkler system could be trusted to handle the watering.) Among her precious crops were a few stalks of corn. As time went on, the corn grew and so did her love of gardening. This rather reserved four-year-old would happily engage in conversations about her garden. She shared details about the types of plants she was growing, what she did to take care of the garden, information on how gardens grow, and she boasted that this was her own garden built for her by her dad. But the best part of all of these garden-related conversations was the corn cook-off that she envisioned in the future. She invited everyone to enjoy her corn with her at the end of the summer. She anticipated a mighty crop, and it would be delicious.

As it turned out, the bugs got the corn and we never did have any magnificent harvest, but we did have a girl who lovingly turned a plot of earth with run-of-the-mill vegetable seedlings into the opportunity to feast on the simple pleasures of life and revel in the wonders of nature.

Wow, kiddo. Simply wow.

I try to be intentional with my time, and I imagine myself to be someone who slows down to take it all in, but it appears I am not a natural dinker. Maybe there is still time for this precious girl and others like her to teach me how to dink around. I think I need more practice, but she can help me. I want to be a dinker.

When I think about all of the things that I have missed because I don’t slow down, it makes me feel a twinge of guilt. But I have today, and I have been given this opportunity to pause and reflect. Whether it’s the garden harvest fantasies, the dandelion bouquets, or the way that she can find an anthill like a heat-seeking missile, my girl is the wholly (holy) joyful dinker. Let’s embrace that term and reinvision a world of sweet dinkers.

The sweetest dinker

The sweetest dinker

What about you? Are you a dinker? Do you have a dinker in your life? Or, as I suspect, have you learned something special from a small child?

My new church: I guess that I do this now

I was raised Catholic. Capital “C” no meat on Fridays during lent pray the Rosary wear a St. Christopher medal know what purgatory is fast for Ash Wednesday give up chocolate for lent go to confession and genuflect for exercise Catholic. For a very long time, I went to church. As a young person, it was “required” of me by my beloved mother. I will be truthful: It was almost never fun, and I went because I had to and not because I had some deep spiritual yearning. My mother would sit between my brother and me during mass so that we didn’t bug one another or, alternatively, dissolve into fits of laughter over something like the time one of us (I’ll never tell) farted in church. As a young adult, and furthermore as a genuine-beyond-my-early-twenties adult, I embraced the Catholic faith for its rich history, comforting ritual, its preferential option for the poor and its firm footing in acts (of charity, service, faith, etc.). I even went to grad school to study ministry and theology, but that’s another story.

The two horrible churchgoers (and yes, that is a "Members Only" jacket)

The two horrible churchgoers (and yes, that is a “Members Only” jacket)

Clearly, like nearly everyone I know, I had a storied history with organized religion, but I chose it for my own. Both of my girls are baptized in the Catholic church. I belonged to a very good parish in Denver, and I don’t know that I’d personally call it “great” but it was as close to great as you’re likely to get in the Archdiocese of Denver. You see, in the Catholic Church, so much of your liturgy, your community of faith, and your overall experience can depend on the church leadership. I grew up in a very progressive diocese in a very different era. The church had a momentum in the post-Vatican II era that, in my opinion, was not sustained. Where my home parish had embraced lay leadership and even lay homilists in the 80s, my experience as an adult was quite a bit different: lots of head bowing, poor seating arrangements and on the rare occasion you find a wonderful liturgist and homilist, well, then, the priest acts like he’s a rock star (and wears the Madonna microphone to boot).

Never mind the effect of having two girls and realizing that I’d have to tell them Nope, there are all sorts of things you cannot do or be in the Catholic Church simply because you are a girl.

When I moved to Fort Collins, I went to mass at a church and I went again and I went one more time. There was no avoiding it: this church was unwelcoming, archaic, closed-minded and in complete contradiction with my faith. For me, it closed the door on this chapter. I had to find a new church. Possibly, an entirely different denomination.

And I did. After searching (more soul than physical), I found a church that I enjoy. Furthermore, I have been–gasp–participating in the church. I went to a book club at the church the other day.

We read Faith by Jennifer Haigh. This novel, this book club, and this whole experience could not have been a more ironic introduction to my new church. The book is about a family in Boston during the height of the sex abuse scandal in 2002.

Photo from

Photo from

The Lord works in mysterious ways, right? Well, the Lord couldn’t have been less mysterious at that book club. It was fairly obvious to me how the non-Catholic world sees the Catholic church. Through the eyes of nearly a dozen (mostly) middle-aged (mostly) white Methodist women, I felt a definite distrust for any religion that would let a bunch of celibate dudes run their church-life.

And I had to agree.

My time in the Catholic church was, for the most part, good. Unlike several characters in this book, I do not have to reconcile any major abuses at the hands of the church. Fortunately, I can walk away with a hug and say, “Let’s just agree to see other people.” I wish the church of my birth and my mother’s (and grandparents and great-grandparents, etc.) before me no ill-will. But it just wasn’t working out.

I’m sure that  my relationship with the United Methodist Church will have its own issues. Every honest relationship is challenging in its own way. However, I am excited to see what this new relationship has in store for me. And my girls.

What about you? Do you have a faith community that you love?  If you have kids, is it important to you to raise your kids in a particular faith-tradition?