Sunday, September 21, 2008

Grand Rapids, Here We Come!

In just two weeks, it will be time for Hearts at Home in Grand Rapids, MI. I am getting so excited about the weekend and the opportunity to speak with many moms about the things that matter most.

If you have never attended a Hearts at Home conference, I really want to encourage you to find a way to attend one of the three conferences they offer every year. In October, the conference is in Grand Rapids, MI. In November, it will be in Rochester, MN and in March the National Conference will be held in Bloomington/Normal, IL.

Years ago, a friend encouraged me to attend a Hearts conference and for reasons I cannot explain, I declined to go. Year after year, I politely said no and had absolutely no idea what I was missing. About four years ago, I grabbed three friends and we booked a hotel near the National Conference. We didn't know what to expect but if nothing else, we would enjoy each other's company and have some time away. What we found was a glorious surprise!

We sat in a room with THOUSANDS of other people who knew what we were going through. We walked from sectional to sectional surrounded by women who showed us clearly that there are many ways to go about this "momming" that we do everyday. We laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed and found ourselves encouraged and strengthened and blessed by the many voices who shared ideas and truths about parenting. The weekend was run smoothly, professionally and with such attention to detail that we felt personally tended to even in a room with thousands of other moms. We were in the right place and we were SOLD.

Years have gone by and I am humbled to have been added to the speaker list for Hearts at Home. The place that offered me vision for the most important work I will ever do has given me the chance to share that vision and have it stretched by the voices of the many moms who come and share their stories. It is an amazing gift, truth be told, and I cannot wait for October 3-4 when the Great Lakes Regional Conference will be held in Grand Rapids.

So, what are you doing October 3? Do you need a breath of fresh air, a renewed look at the importance of your work as a mom? Do you need to laugh out loud, shed a tear, think a bit, and come away with many new ideas to help you do what matters most? I know it can be hard to get away but this is not time you will come to regret. This is time for YOU. It is needed and it is now.

Join us in Grand Rapids. You will be glad you came.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How it Happened for Us--September 11, 2001

Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.

I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.

"Is the TV on?" he asked.

"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."
He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."

I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.

I took them by the hands and led them their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.

Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.

After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I run. Our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.

"Come home." I said.

He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.

"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."

He agreed and made plans to leave the city.

By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.

Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.

My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.

We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.

By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.

After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.

I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.

"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."

Tears again.

We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.

We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.

Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.

For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to go back to the city. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...

Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.

It has been seven years. My boys, now 11.5 and almost 10 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.

Since September 11:

-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.

-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.

-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.

-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.

Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?

Seven years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is on the White House lawn. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Speaking and Listening and Learning a Lot!

After months of waiting, it has finally begun! My first speaking engagement of the '08-'09 season was two weeks ago. I was asked to speak to a group in Monticello, IL called The Mom's Group and was so looking forward to meeting them! After a months of exchanging emails, Thursday morning dawned and I climbed into my van to make the long drive downstate.... but wait, was that a raindrop on my windshield?

As I headed for the highway and turned my radio to a weather update, I began to realized that it was not ONE raindrop... No, what it was, in reality, was a hurricane come rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico north to Illinois. Never before in my whole life have I ever seen such rain!

So, down I drove, through this onslaught of water and all the while I hoped that the women who attend The Mom's Group would indeed show up. On a morning like this almost anyone wants to stay in bed, especially those who will spend the whole day trying to entertain children who cannot play outside!

Two and a half hours later, I found myself in this sweet, little town at a gorgeous, old church and following the voices (and smell of fresh coffee!) I located the group. I went to talk with them about something that has worked well for my kids. I received from them much, much more.

As soon as I arrived, I was met at the door and offered a cup of coffee. I felt noticed and welcomed and tended to right away. Once inside I found a wonderful group of women seated around a room that had clearly been set up just for them. They exchanged names and snippets about their lives and were given contact information in cute, little books and I know that they left feeling part of something that would offer them connection and support. There was lots of laughter, freely asked questions and a camaraderie that was fun to be near. The rain had dampened nothing and I was glad that I had come.

It was two long hours home and I was tired. The rain did NOT stop... it did not even slow. But, I had that time to think about what is important to all of us. I went to share a story, an idea, a plan... BUT I came back remembering how much it means to be handed coffee you did not make, to hear a story that is not yours, and to laugh with people who understand the place where you are today. We all need these simple things but in the rush of our daily lives, we often do not find time to offer them to one another. I know I don't do it often enough. I am grateful to the Mom's Group of Monticello for helping me to remember these simple but grace-filled truths.

I have a lot speaking to do this year and I know that the hope is that I will bring a word, an idea, or a bit of encouragement to the groups that I am blessed to visit. But, in the midst of a hurricane in central Illinois, I was reminded about how much I have to learn from the women I will meet in all of these groups. The season has begun and I am excited... the learning started with reminders we all may need to hear... reminders about the importance of community, of connection and of coffee, too.
Let's look for ways to offer these to one another... to enfold those around us, to build community with our words and actions, and to offer a cup to someone who just may need a break. I learn this lesson with you... and I am off to bring a latte to friend. : )

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Images of Summer

It has happened again. Three full months of free-time and play and sunshine and slow have slipped between my fingers leaving behind them nothing more than the inflexible schedule of the rest of the year. My kids have been back in school for about two weeks and I still cannot believe they are gone.

At the beginning of the summer, it always feels like the freedom will last for so much longer than it ever really does. I want to make each day count but the reality is that most days are full of the mundane activities that pile upon one another to make up a week, a month, a summer... and then, there it is. The first day of school. A bit of panic settles inside me then as I hope and pray that we did enough, that I played enough, that I listened enough, provided enough, signed them up for enough... that I WAS enough for the four little blessings that I call my own.

I don't know if that happens to you... I try not to be a momma motivated by guilt but it is a slippery little thing that wiggles into my mind while I am busy doing other things. Then before I know it, it has fed upon my thoughts and turned them around into something that I never saw coming. Maybe it's how mommas are made. Maybe it is because we never feel we ARE doing enough. Whatever causes it... I am determined to fight it and let the pictures of the summer we DID have together wash over me in a warm and cleansing rain. Reality. Truth. Some of these I have shared with you. And there is more to see...

Like watching Josiah, previously afraid of all things pool, going down a water slide on the final day of swimming lessons, safely seated on the lap of his instructor...

Like watching my children, from my kitchen window, sitting at a table outside with watercolor paints before them, having a private art class with my mom as their teacher.

Like watching my four fall head over heels in love with a puppy we had thought we would be unable to bring into our family.

Like stumbling onto a picture perfect moment between that same puppy and my youngest children enjoying a a good book in a quiet moment.

Like watching my boys smiling faces against the backdrop of the city we love best...

Like, slowing my racing mind long enough to watch my children watch...

Like giggling with my daughter as she laughs with her friends... sweet little girls she has known her whole entire life...
Like slicing cucumbers with my children to serve with our dinner and eating fresh tomatoes just picked from the vine...

Like listening to my boys making plans for their toys and watching my daughter put her baby on the swings...

Like snuggling with my kids whose heads smell like sunshine...

Waking up late...

Finding the big dipper...

Running in the sprinkler...

Finding my kids hidden in trees...

Washing feet dirty from playing on blacktop...

Freedom and calm and all that is summer...

The pictures are clear. It was what it needed to be. Maybe we could have done more... maybe I could have BEEN more... But in the end, more was not needed and the summer was good. I won't let guilt come in and make it something it really never was. It was Summer 2008 and the pictures I share and those we were laughing too hard to take will help me to remember how it all went and looked and smelled and tasted...

Three months is not that long... and I am sad that it is over already... but in the end, it is all that we had and all that we needed and that will always be just enough.
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