Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thinking Through Christmas: The Frivolity of The List

I love this time of year.  I love wonder of it all, the joy we can find, the traditions that have become a structure upon which our family hangs our memories.  I love the pictures, some many years old, that can still just make me smile.  

There is so much good to be found here.  So much truth and hope.  If we can wade through the craziness that Christmas can bring, we can find ourselves sitting in the midst of such good. 

Though sometimes, this is not where we land. 

Every year around November, my speaking calendar fills up.  I have a Christmas talk that I love to give and so this busyness always makes me smile.  The talk offers practical tips to help us connect to the true meaning of Christmas and to minimize the commercialism that annually runs rampant through the holiday season.  

Toward the end of the talk, I address THE LIST.  

You know the one.  The wish list that our children want to create that holds not only the things they want, but also every.single.thing they have ever heard of.  The list that is handed to you, perhaps to mail to Santa, that will leave you feeling overwhelmed, underpaid, and down-right depressed.  There is a sense of deep accomplishment that flows over children who have created an especially 
L  O  N  G     L  I  S  T  
and a feeling of anticipation that comes with believing that magically all these gifts will appear beneath their Christmas tree.  Often, THE LIST holds items you have previously denied your children, items that go against your family's belief systems, and items that far exceed realistic budget constraints.  

And yet we allow them to write The List.  


I have spent a bit of time in local stores over the past weeks and often found myself surrounded by parents pushing store carts through toy aisles filling them with a wide selection of random toys.  I have overheard parents asking one another how they will pay for all these toys, whether any of it is needed and why this item or that item even made The List.

 And yet the items are added to the cart.

And I am left wrestling with these questions:

1.  Why do we do this crazy thing?  Would we ever, at any other time of year, hand our children a piece of paper and offer them the opportunity to request all the things they have ever heard of? Maybe this all sounds Scrooge-y to you.  And that's okay.  But please know that I adore the holiday season and work hard at making it meaningful for my family.  My children DO request and receive gifts.  But we do not do The List.  We do not do it because it feels offensive to me. It seems to me that something about this practice could foster a deep sense of entitlement and commercialism that do not belong at Christmas.  If we think about the meaning behind all these decorations and celebrations, the practice of creating The List does not belong.  Which leads me to my next question... 

2.  What are we teaching our kids?  It seems I keep asking this question of myself... but it feels important and I want to think it through.  I just cannot look past the fact that this season offers us a time to really help our children understand what it means to be loved.  This season can help them (and us) come to a deeper understanding of what true sacrifice looks like.  This season can help us all to look outside ourselves and see the world the way God sees it... beautiful, broken, in need.  As we enter the holiday season, I do not want to be distracted by what current culture tells me is important about Christmas.  Yes, I want to have fun and find myself lost with my children in the wonder of it all.  But, I also want to SEE.  I want to see how deeply God loved and loves me.  And you.  And our kids and the whole of His creation.  I want to reconnect to the miracle that happened which eventually allowed us draw closer to God in brand new ways.  In this season, when the gritty truth of the Nativity offers us an invitation to glimpse true love, I want to daily draw near and take in the scene.  I want to take the hands of my babies and pull them near so they can see, as well.  This picture sits at the center of everything we hold dear.  The birth of Christ child was more than the delivery of God unto this earth. It was and is the delivery of Hope.  And I need that hope.  Don't you?  

As we come into this holiday season, we have the opportunity to be mindful of the lessons we are offering our families.  Those lessons will be found in the words we speak, those carefully chosen and those mistakenly set free.  Those lessons will be found in what we choose to do and what we set aside.  Those lessons will be found in the practice of giving, receiving, requesting. This season has everything to do with each of these but creating a traditional Christmas list may muddy the waters of understanding leaving us unable to comprehend what any of that means. 

This season has nothing to do with rampant requests and uncontrolled commercialism.  It has nothing to do with The List.  This is a season of anticipation and hope.  Reveling in the fun and frivolity that surrounds us can certainly add to the wonder of the days ahead.  But let's not lose our way.  Again and again, day after day, take the hands of the little ones near you and help them to see the truth, the hope, the love that sit at the center of the holiday season.  

Christmas began with a single meaningful gift that literally changed the history of the world. Celebrating this miracle with a flood of meaningless presents can cheapen the truth of this season. But if we seek to continually draw close to the manger, to see what was given to us, and to include an exchange of meaningful gifts as an extension of our understanding of the gift that we were given, we are using even the presents beneath our tree to teach our children something about the wonder of unexpected (and fully undeserved) blessings.  

In this way, we may find ourselves unwrapping a gift we can keep.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

At a recent soccer game, I found myself walking through a crowd of young families.  There were children running, playing, cheering, crying.  On one end of the field, I noticed a small group of little girls sitting calmly on a blanket.  They were all facing one another and each held a baby doll in the crook of her right arm.  There were extra blankets between them, baby bottles, toys.

As I walked past this idyllic scene, I noticed something that nearly made me weep.  Babies in their right hands, each little girl held a toy cell phone in their left.  They sat in the same position, "pretzel legs", cradling baby, talking on the phone.  Not one gazing at the infant.  Not one chatting with the child on her side.

It broke my heart.

How have we allowed ourselves to come to this place?  How have we allowed ourselves to teach young children that it is enough to hold a baby, but not even look their way?  Is it really okay with us that this is what normal looks like to them?

As a young mom, I had a cell phone, too.  It really only made calls and it sat in a basket near the door so that I could grab it as I went out to run errands or take a walk.  I cannot recall ever looking at my phone while I rocked my babies.  But I do recall a lot of other things...

I recall the look of the top of Noah's head as he nursed.  That boy was bald until he was two!  When his hair grew in, it was so blonde that it nearly matched his skin, turning invisible when it was wet.

I recall that in the midst of all Benjamin's blonde curls, he had one or two black wisps of hair that grew right on the top of his head.  I remember that he was a power-nurser, too busy to want to linger still but always eager to eat.

I recall long minutes with Josiah in my arms while I watched the older boys playing nearby. I remember how he would curl into me when I rocked him, forming his little self like a puzzle piece that fit perfectly against my chest.

I recall wondering at the miracles that had to occur for Elizabeth to find her way home.  Born in China, I remember being stunned, again and again, that God's perfect plan made it possible for me to hold my baby girl and look into her almond eyes.

Hundreds and thousands of seconds and minutes spent staring at my babies in my rocking chair.  I studied them, every inch of their tiny selves.  And I spoke and I listened and I rocked and I waited and I saved up time that I get to keep.  In that season of mothering, I felt like I would sit in that chair with a baby in my arms forever.  And yet, one day, I rocked each one for the last time.  I do not know what day that was... it happened and then they got down and we grew into a new part of life... a loss I never saw go but one I feel still.

Yet this I know for sure, children learn what we teach them.  I believe this to be true.  And those little girls on the side of that soccer field are learning that this is what mommas do.  Mommas use their phones while they hold their babies.  And it just breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart that they believe that taking care of a baby has to do with holding them but not gazing at them, not singing to them, not talking to them gently.  It breaks my heart that they have gotten the message that technology is somehow a part of rocking a newborn.  Because it is not. Truly.

Technology has come to offer us many opportunities.  There is so much good.  But, it also brings great distraction.  And some of the things we are distracted from, I know we will come to miss.  As a mom of four children, growing up way to quickly, I know in brand new ways the value of those minutes and hours I spent holding my little ones.  The details of their very selves are stored up for me and feel like treasures that no one can take.  Watching them grow into the people they are becoming has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  And no one gets to see it from the perspective I hold.  No one else has held my babies and nursed them and rocked them and watched them as I have. I am left with a lifetime of powerful memories that layer one upon the next.  These pictures flash before me in the most unexpected moments... when Noah smiles big, when Benjamin laughs, when Josiah lays a hand gently on my arm, when Elizabeth leans her head against my shoulder.  All of a sudden, I see it all again.  A lifetime of seconds brought back to me anew.  Treasures, indeed.

Yes, children learn what we teach them.  And what we are teaching may need to change.  Our children need to be seen, need to be studied in love.  They need to feel noticed, cherished, adored. And none of this comes out of our rocking a baby in the crook of one arm while we regularly stare at the phone in our left.  And perhaps this comes off as judgmental... but I am really not sure that I care.  Because maybe we need to judge ourselves a little more harshly.  Maybe we need to raise the bar just a little bit or remind ourselves that even when we are tired, and even when it feels like we have rocking babies for way too long, they still need us.  Not just our arm.  Not just the rocking chair.  But US. Our gaze, our attention, our maternal ability to store up the details of the children we have been entrusted to raise.  We are needed... and so maybe we need to let that settle in a bit and take a good look at what we are teaching and then make a careful change.

I know I can do better.

Those little girls just reminded me that I should.

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


When my oldest turned 13, I spent the day at home, teary, afraid I would lose my boy to teenage turmoil. Somehow, I let myself believe the lie that there is no hope to be found teens today, that they are all selfish and dangerous and sullen.

All of which was untrue.

What I learned, and I speak about this now, is that the 13 year old you raise is the same 3 year old you taught and played with and loved.  It is the same child whose laugh you know, whose gifts you respect, whose life has been lived alongside yours for so many years.  And, I now know, that all the work you put in at age 1 and 11 and 13 really matters because your child knows that you are invested in them and their growth and development.  That work of love builds a connection, a life-long relationship, that can, not only withstand the teen years, but flourish within them.

I was foolish to think that a birthday would take my boy from me.

And I am clinging to that lesson today.

The lessons found in his thirteenth birthday feel like a lifetime ago.  Tonight is soccer Senior Night for my son and I am stunned to think that we have so quickly arrived at this point.

 A part of me, the part that wept at home on the day he became a teen, is approaching this day with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart.  On some level, it feels like a loss.  A lifetime of soccer games behind us, his time on that field is finishing.  It is the beginning of so many lasts in the midst of a life that has celebrated so many firsts. And on a day as momentous as today, those firsts just keep washing over me again and again and again.  Precious memories of all that he has learned to do flash quickly past as he smiles, runs his hand through his hair, shares a story, kicks a ball. Ordinary moments inextricably linked to a lifetime of experiences that I got to share with my son.

There is a sadness to it.

A sadness I intend to set aside.

Because, I am deeply aware that the moments I have mourned in the life of my boy have often led to amazing new things.  He turned 13 and became even more of the man who stands before me today. In the years since that momentous birthday, he discovered a passion for math and science and that has brought him to a place where he is painting a bright future for himself today.  After he turned 13, he grew in his abilities, his independence, his faith.  And it has been my privilege to watch this happen in our home.

What was I thinking on his thirteenth birthday, mourning what would never occur?

Tonight, we will celebrate my son.  The parents of the seniors will take the field, (a place my boys have warned me to never step should they fall injured in the midst of a game) and we will share that sacred space with our son on one arm and flowers in the other.  Someone will read a bit about his accomplishments and we will smile and I will try not to cry because the truth is, this experience is something more complex than sad.

It is the beginning what comes next.

And it is a time to celebrate how amazing this part has been.

Because it has been amazing.  He first took that field as a freshman on varsity, 100 lbs soaking wet and in the midst of growth spurt that began just in time. He made that team with friends who had played together for years, each knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the others. As each season began, he learned to take the hits, play fast and fun, rely on his teammates and fight to the goal.  He found value in selfless passes and was grateful when he landed his shot.  My boy found joy in playing when life was perfect and he found perseverance to continue when things fell apart.  He celebrated with teams that could not lose and grew discouraged with others that could not win. This year, he got to play alongside his little brother, offering the same give and go they have practiced for a lifetime in our own yard.  And he has donned his uniform more times than I can count over the past 4 years, always nodding at me in the stands as I desperately tried to stay warm... or dry... or cool in the autumn extremes.

We got to live this together!  And, he has stored up four years of experiences that are marked by his effort, his friends, his love for this great game.

And it is good.

So, I don't know what next year looks like.  But that is not a question for today.  On this one night, I want to remember to learn from my mistakes and not mourn a loss that may not come.  I want to mark this night with a smile on my face knowing that my son has come a very long way and gained so much wisdom and has truly used this time to grow into the man he is.  And, the truth is, we've had fun.

It is not sad, you see?

Instead, Senior Night can be an opportunity to revel in the joy of being his momma and the wonder found in watching him grow.  It is a chance to stand by his side and celebrate these good years and all the memories he made.

Yep, I choose that.

Because what is to come might be different, but life with my boy has taught me that different is not bad.  It can, in fact, mark the beginning a new and amazing path.

This, I am eager to see...

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blog Rewind: The Way it Happened for Us

:::Each year, I post our experiences from September 11.  This is the day, as I remember it, thirteen years ago:::

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 Christian College 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 to 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. Our building 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 helped to run. It was 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 worked 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.

That evening 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 in my apartment. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. I invited her to come 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 Mark and I 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 be safe in the city again. 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 thirteen years. My boys, now 17 and almost 16 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?

Thirteen years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. 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. God granted us community.  He spoke in human voices.  He reached out through hands that were cloaked in flesh and blood. Through friends and family and acquaintances and community, God granted comfort to us in our grief.  No, we were not then and are not now alone.  And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.

Monday, August 18, 2014

All Those Little Things...

This is what I know...

I know that in my home live four children who call me momma.  Different as night and day, they are.  Each one deeply loved and desired and each one such an integral part of our family that I cannot imagine life without them.

And I know that as Mark and I have parented these four, there have been days that are beautiful and simple and honestly, the stuff of dreams.  But there have also been hard days and gritty days and days that I fall into bed in tears, deeply aware of how much I really do not know.

For each of them we have fought.  We fought to see the wonder and delighted in those moments when it rose to the top like bubbles.  We fought to approach discipline wisely and carefully and personally so that we were not so much trying to be fair to the four as we were trying to give each one what they needed.  Because it is rarely the same thing, at least not in our home.

And God knows we have not always been sure that what we are doing is the best thing.  We are not always sure what the next thing should be.  We are not always sure that we are reaching the ones we need to reach and giving space to the ones who are growing up and out.  Because all this parenting stuff is hard.

Maybe you understand...

But, as we have walked through this for 17.5 years with our children nearby, crafting a life that we pray God will use to help our kids grow into who they are meant to be, we have tried to do what we can do and prayed for grace when we failed.  Which happens, you know.  I hope you know.

And from where I stand, I see this little tiny glimpse that I just have to share because in the midst of a lifetime of living with no instruction manual and only a fuzzy view into what might come, it offers me hope.   And I need that.  And maybe you do, too.

This fall, our oldest will be a senior in high school.  He is almost done.  And his little brother will be a sophomore and our little ones will be in the 5th and 6th grades and all of a sudden I can see it...

Blowing bubbles
Praying often
Standing firm
Saying no
Laughing out loud
Eating together
Playing games
Taking a walk
Going to church
Reading a book
Saying hard words
Raising the bar
Staying involved
Showing up
Opening up
Pulling in close


           Letting Go...

They all matter.  

These and so much more.

And maybe you are tired and maybe you are struggling and maybe it is just all too hard.

Yep.  I get that.

But, squint your eyes and take a deep breath and be reminded... It.  Matters.  

All those little choices over a lifetime of living together when you could not stand the sight of the Candy Land box or one more knock-knock joke but you made yourself listen again, roll the dice, pick a card, hook up the sprinkler, all because a little one asked.  All the times that you set aside what you are doing to watch that video, listen to middle school drama, invite over another friend, it makes all the difference in the world. When you stay connected when it is easier to step away, when you try a new approach to discipline because the last 4 ways did not work, when you expect more and follow through and don't give up, you are changing it all for the good.

And when you, like me, are looking at your baby and realizing that you see more of his back as he walks out the door than his face hanging out at home, you will know that somehow you have poured into the boy while you had him close.  And when he comes back in to say good-bye and give you a hug as he heads on out, you will be grateful for all the little things, all the choices that felt like mindless minutiae, that gave him the security to stand, the confidence to connect to the world before him.

Our children get these things when we see them.

So, please see.  

And honestly, I do not think it is so much about the things we do not do... Because we are trying, right?  It is about knowing that what we manage to do on this one day makes all the difference in the world to the children we have been given to raise.  So we will try to choose that one thing, one more time, one more game, one more lightning bug saved in a jar.  There is wonder to be found in the most mundane.

When we started this journey, 17.5 years ago, we had no idea that it mattered.  But a lifetime of seeking to make intentional choices has somehow brought us to this place where we can see that the little choices are the big choices.  They are those moments we remember, those memories we cherish, even when it was something silly or simple.  But the whole of it left a mark on our kids and taught lessons we didn't know we were offering. Choosing to be present and willing and connected sent a signal loudly that they are loved, important, noticed, valued...

Lessons they get to keep.

I don't think I always knew that.

What a wondrous thing to learn.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Revisiting Gaming and Seeking What's Best

This gaming issue is not done for me.  I am wrestling with it still.  I snapped this picture in Target a while ago because it was so shocking to me that we would even think this way when planning for summer.  It is a lot to process for us mommas, a lot to evaluate for the children we love.

All of this came up for me again today as I perused facebook. I took a few minutes to read an article I have recently seen but had ignored.  I should not have ignored it.  The title?

Have you read it?  If not, please, PLEASE click on that title and leave here for a few minutes and read THAT.  Because, seriously... we need to take in what that article provides and find a way to apply it to our ordinary, everyday lives.   This article takes what we feel as mommas and shows us the research behind it, making our intuition all the more clear.  I don't know why we refuse to trust ourselves more... but we do.  Us mommas, we get this sense that something is just plain bad for our know, like excessive gaming or the quality of such... and we talk ourselves out of it because we are just so sure that we will be wrong, or we are being too strict or everyone else is doing it and that all of this matters more.  

Can we just not do that anymore?  

That little one in your arms or at your feet or who you drove to school today or put on a bus... that little one is yours.  And you get to be the expert on that child and you get to choose for that child and you get to offer up to that sweet daughter or son the best (and sometimes worst) that you are.  So, if there is a weight in the pit of your belly that says, "I think this is not what is best for my baby." then RUN... seriously, run... away from that thing and toward what you believe will help your child to develop into the adult they are meant to be.  

You get to do that.  And no one can fuss at you for doing what you feel is right.  

So I wrote this blog in January about gaming and I was terrified to post it because I was sure that I was standing alone.  And you want to know what happened next?  Two things.  

1.  People started reading it and passing to friends making that post the most read blog I have ever written. 

2.   People started writing to me and telling me how they felt similarly about gaming.  

I was shocked by both.  I went from being terrified about what people would think to feeling like I wasn't that alone at all.  Amazing.  Comforting.  

Though it did make me wonder why all the video game stores are still open.  Because now I can see that a lot of parents are uncomfortable with this whole scene.  And I am left wondering about how trapped we feel because something in us is saying that gaming is not what is best for our kids and yet the stores are still open and money is being made and our kids, yours and mine, are still gaming.  And yes, a lot of us are putting limits on what we buy and what we allow and that is exactly what we need to do.  We need to help our kids see that we can find a way to build in parameters that allow for the things they want to do while still living within limits we can tolerate.  

But, when I read that article today, I felt emboldened again.  And I find myself thinking about what our life would look like if we lived by the standards given here.  I wondered what we could do if we actually had back the time we often waste on screens.  I wondered how I can be so concerned about gaming and the quality of it all and yet still find myself allowing the overuse of technology in our home.  

I love that the article addresses all of this from a point of research.  Because seriously, seeing it all clearly explained from a point of view that has studied the impacts of technology on children is motivating.  And I think we are often overlooking really obvious signs that we are just not doing what we need to... in our homes and in our society.  

Many years ago when I was teaching, I asked the kindergarten teacher how placement testing was going for the next year.  Each spring, potential kindergarten students would come to school for "testing" that would help the teacher to prepare for the new year and also to help guide parents in preparing their children. Nearly 20 years ago, I found myself in this conversation and was shocked at the response.  My colleague (I taught first grade, she taught Kindergarten) sat with her head in her hands at the end of the day.  As we talked, she explained that year after year the kids she tested were actually able to do LESS.  She said that many did not know how to hold a pencil and a shocking number of kids could not climb stairs well (alternating feet).  She said that the children came to testing knowing the names of multiple TV characters and with tons of experience playing on electronics, but little experience playing outside.  

Nearly 20 years ago.  

Can you imagine her experience today?  

And we scratch our heads at the number of children who show signs of attention deficit disorder and sensory processing disorder at an early age.  We offer medication for low levels of Vitamin D and prepare for record numbers of children to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Yes, I know some kids are born with these struggles.  I believe this to be true.  But, I also know that there are far more kids with issues now than there were when I used to teach.  And I know that in my own house, we have had to remove TV as an option for one of my kids because that child's behavior was so much worse after watching.  Why?  Because she needed to move!  She needed to jump and yell and run and fall and feel the dirt beneath her feet and the wind in her hair.  Kids need these things.  And they will never get them from a screen.  Ever.  

So yes, there are kids who are born with struggles and there are kids who come from hard places and there are kids who have health issues just because.  And there are kids who need to move more and play outside and do a puzzle and talk a ton and who will find themselves with a hard road to walk in school because of the excessive technology they have been offered from a very young age 

At the end of the article, we see this: 

Dr Andrew Doan, Dr. Hilarie Cash and Chris Rowan

And I am left wondering again.  

I am left with our experience from Christmas.  I am left with the knowledge that experts still say that all online violent and explicit gaming is bad for our kids... even our big kids... and that these forms of media should never be used.  And there are studies that support these truths.  

Oh mommas, we know this, don't we?  We know in our guts that we need to be careful.  We know we need to protect their hearts and their minds.  We know.  What will we do with this knowledge?  How will we intersect what we feel is best with what we offer at home?  Where will we make room for our faith and a respect for human life to guide our choices?  

And even as I type that, I think, "Am I supposed to making room for my faith?  Or should I be making room in a faithful life for some of these other things?"  The difference in these sentences is small.  The variation in their meaning is great.  

As I go through life with my four kids, I know that I want what is best for them.  I know that I want them to grow up healthy and well-rounded with a solid belief system that guides their lives.  I know that I want them to know how to connect to others and follow their calling and value family and love their God.  And I want them to have fun and know joy and find room for downtime and rest.  

I just hope that I am teaching them to do these things with a focus on what matters most.  

This is not an easy task. 

Blessings on your day. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

What Can We Do Together?

I never dreamed I would be doing this.  When I was a little girl, I thought I would grow up and be a mom, a teacher, a writer.  I thought I would work with kids with special needs.  And to be honest, I did (or do) all of these things.  

But a speaker?  

It never crossed my mind.  

And yet, last week, I found myself standing on a stage at a church in the Chicago-land area having the time of my life.  I did the same thing the week before... and will do it again next week... and the week after that... And I just cannot believe that I get to do this thing that I love that I never saw coming at all.  

God is funny like that... planning and dreaming for the stuff we will do and smiling when it comes as a complete surprise to His children.  It keeps us on our toes some, I think.  At least, it does for me.  

And, as if it was not amazing enough that I get to do this thing, sometimes I hear back from the people I speak to from that stage.  I did today.  I opened my email box and found a story about a family and the part that my Sticks program might play in the life they are living together.  It made me smile and feel affirmed but honestly, it made me feel something more.  

That kind email made me feel eager. 

I want to do more.  

Because here is what I know from living life with my family and standing on those stages to speak... I know that we are all just doing what we can.  And sometimes, we find ourselves so overwhelmed that even if we could scrape up the energy to try something new in our homes, we may not then find the energy to see it through. We get up every day and try to do what we know to do and to love on our kids and to get it all done and then at the end of the day, we fall into bed exhausted and get up again and do it again and are exhausted again and so on and so on and... 

It is an awful lot.  

And then we add to that the things we must do that we never saw coming and are unprepared to manage because who ever trains you to be a mom?  We have kids who struggle, who are sad, who are angry.  We have kids with sensory issues, autism, learning disabilities.  We have kids who are shy, who are mean, who are lost.  And somehow we just have to figure it out?  And still get dinner on the table and clean the floors and remember our friends and find time to shower?  

Yep, some days it's just too much.  A lot of days, it is too much.  And we find ourselves living in survival mode which doesn't leave much time to connect to others, to save our own sanity, to reach out for help.  And every, single time I stand in front of an audience, I think of these very things.  That we are doing a big work, a hard thing, and we are in it together.  And I cannot believe I get to offer a bit of encouragement to a group of parents who, like me, know what it is like to feel like you are barely getting by.  And I cannot believe I get to see a little peek into what God can do when we take the chance to be real together. Because when we set down our guard and tell the truth, often we have created just enough space for something amazing to occur.  

We weren't meant to do this alone... He wants us to be in it together.  

Last week, after speaking on Sticks, I was taking questions from the audience.  Imagine my surprise when I was asked a couple of times about the role of video games in our home?  I don't talk about gaming in my presentation at all.  But, isn't it just like God to know that something that has been on my heart, something I have wrestled with here on the blog with you, is also something another momma needs to think about, too? And as I briefly addressed the subject (Aren't you surprised I could do so briefly?) I was reminded again how much we need one another.  

How easy that is to forget... 

Today, I want us to remember.  I want us to remember how important it feels to have someone tell us that they have struggled with the same issue that is plaguing us today.  I want us to remember how powerful it is when we take a risk and allow for some transparency and then someone says that they understand.  I want all of us to recall how calming it is when someone tells us they are sorry for our pain, that they want to offer help, that they have no words but want to come alongside.  

I want us all to remember... and then act.  

Because parenting is hard.  And we need to offer to one another fewer judgmental glances and far more words of grace.  We need to reach out today and call a friend or send a text and sincerely ask what we can do.  And that friend who seems to have it all together?  Don't be distracted by that image.  We all live in a place where some days are good and others are rough and we know what to do or cannot figure it out and all of us, even you and even me, need to know that we are not walking alone.  

You have a part to play, you see.  And I do too.  

And when I stand on that stage and look out, I see it.  I see the look in your eye, like the look in my own, that asks a million questions and wants to talk it through.  We were not meant to just figure it out.  We were meant to reach out and connect and process this work.  In doing so, we will find that this big work doesn't have to be so lonely.  This big work is meant to do in community with others... and we are better this way. Better together than we ever were alone.  

Yep, I feel eager.  

Eager to do more, eager for us all to do more. Eager to help.  Eager to write.  Eager to speak and to connect and to empower and encourage.  And I am not sure where God is going next but I sure love where I have been.  

So, I have two book proposals to polish and work to do and the desire to reach out is burning in me. Need a speaker?  Know a publisher, an editor, an agent?  I am ready for whatever is next.  

So, let's find something we can do.  Seriously.  Who do you need to reach out to today?  What note do you need to write, what person needs see your smile, who can you support in the midst of a trial?   Let's not pull so tightly in that we forget how important we can be to others.  Let's not just read a blog and go back to cleaning or diapering or doing whatever we were doing before.  Instead, let's open ourselves up to whatever is coming, whatever we need to do.  

What does that look like for you?  

Blessings on your day. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Random Thoughts Because I Can on a Friday

It is Friday.  And I know full well that it is a horrible day to blog because people are all busy and planning for the weekend and rushing around and so no one reads.  Most often, I use this as a worthy excuse about why I do not post at the end of the week.  Because, you know, I am all about posting regularly.  :)  But, today I think there may be another way to look at this.  Since I am just typing away in my quiet house and the world is all distracted and rushing, I can write anything I would like here and it really doesn't matter.  It's a bit like whispering to myself.  

Which, of course, I never do.  

So, how about a list of random thoughts on a windy Friday morn? 

1.  It warmed up this week.  All the people who are sick of winter got super excited about spring coming and such.  I worry for them.  Because... well... it's February.  And the reality is we have a lot of winter yet to come.  A couple of days of temperatures above freezing made us all remember it is possible that some day spring will come and we will not wear coats and the sun will peek back out and we will all go outside to play. Yep, that day is coming.  But it is not today.  Sometimes I wonder why we are always so discontent. We spend winter longing for summer and summer awaiting the cold.  I wonder what life would look like if we tried to embrace where we are and whatever is around us, trusting that the only thing that is sure is that this will not be the way things stay.  

2.  My older boys have had a couple of busy weeks.  Retreats, rehearsals, practices, school... I see their backs more than their faces and I miss them.  I love that they get to do such amazing things and that they are using their gifts and getting experiences that are valuable to the lives they will lead.  But, when I sit down to eat dinner and they are not here, I am face to face with the reality that someday this will be the norm.  And I cannot even wrap my head around that.  Yes, there are days when I am tired and when the house is a wreck and I am frustrated and all this parenting work feels like an awful lot... But, I also know this is a season. And, from the second these four were placed in my arms, there was a clock somewhere running backwards and my back is up against the wall with no way to slow it down.  So, when my teens came home last night at the time I normally go to bed, you better believe I stayed up a while to listen to them bubble over with excitement about all that they had done.  And you better believe that I put my arms around their necks, yes, even their teenage necks, and hugged them tight because today, I can.  Today, they will still come home and sleep in their beds and eat all our snacks and talk loud and fast and leave their clothes on the bathroom floor. Not forever... but today.  And I am thankful for that... 

3.  Speaking of my messy house...  Please tell me that it is not only me that has a house that is utterly trashed every week.  Please tell me that I am not the only momma who says, "I know you hate chores, dear children. However, if you just picked up after yourselves, there would never be a mess and we would not have to do chores... blah, blah, blah."  As I sit here typing to you, I know I should go and work at some of it but seriously the mess is not mine and I know I am teaching them some horrible lesson by cleaning up after them. But, the truth is that it is driving me crazy and I am home by myself and the only one suffering in the disaster around is me!  I think we have too much stuff.  I am convinced that if we owned less stuff, we would have less to clean up and then I remember... they will leave out what they have anyway.  The only amount of stuff that would end up leaving no mess behind is no stuff.  And that is unrealistic... right? And wasn't it just one paragraph ago that I was reminding myself how fleeting this all is... and a paragraph before that... about contentment?  Yep, maybe I am not reading my blog.  It is Friday, after all.  

4. On another note, my disdain for medicine continues. Turns out, it doesn't much care for me, either.  After nearly two weeks of tweaking meds and feeling sick over all this heart stuff, I think we will need to find another way.  My cardiologist has some suggestions and thinks that fixing my heart may make more sense that toying with meds that do not help greatly and do cause other issues.  So... I am thinking I will likely do that.  Get it fixed.  I wish I could say that I am not afraid... but doing anything with the heart seems pretty worrisome given the fact that I cannot live without.  The doctor seems confident but I am fairly sure that being confident is a trait you must have to go into medicine.  For now, I am going to juggle a couple of prescriptions for about another month and then hopefully, go in and get this whole thing taken care of so I can feel better and live normally for a really long time to come.  If you would pray for this whole tachycardia business though, I would appreciate it more than you know.  

How's that for random thoughts?  

I think I will go make some banana bars and put in a load of laundry.  I think I will write an article and send it in and look over my book proposal and take care of some things that being tired from my heart has kept me from doing for far too long.  I will sit with my dog and soak up the quiet that is sitting beside me and breathe and rest and putz and enjoy this day.  

Even if it is cold. 

Even if there's a mess. 

Even if I don't feel great. 

And, I hope you can, too. 

Blessings on your day.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Heart and Our "Also Lives"

For the past two weeks, I have found myself thinking about what we keep private and why.  Not sure I have figured any of it out but I thought that maybe if I took some time to think it through with you, I would understand it better than I do today.

I love facebook.  I do.  As someone who's life circle has always had a lot of spires coming from and heading to a wide variety of directions, I love the way all those folks that I care about come together in a place of intersection.  From early on my teen years, I desired this... but could not work it out. With facebook,  I love that I can read about the mundane goings on in the lives of friends with whom I once shared such things.  I love watching families grow, seeing pictures of events and exchanging ideas, recipes, frustrations, life experiences.  It is good.

But somehow, I am finding that we all keep back some parts... some darker days or moments of failure or questions about our kids.  We dig through our days mining for some way to connect but throw behind us the very things we may need to share.  Maybe this is just natural, maybe it is totally okay.  But maybe we are choosing not to share some things for reasons that should not be...

Today, a facebook friend very honestly shared that several people had made (incredibly) snide comments about her weight.  Immediately she was inundated with kindness and encouragement on her wall and it was real and it was honest and I know that her morning changed on a dime from a place of self-doubt and sadness to a deep reassurance of her worth and the wonder that makes her unique.

I love that.

But it doesn't happen nearly enough.

When I worked with college students, we talked A LOT about community.  We valued it, protected it, sought to create it and reveled in a life lived alongside. When I tell my older boys about their childhoods, the story always begins with, "You were born into community..." It makes me smile, still.  The images of my family living closely with college students are treasured still and are certainly a part of our family's history.

But what I know for sure is that community is built best in honesty.  It flows from our very willingness to put out the best that we are, our strengths and our gifts, in a sacred offering to others.  And, it flows from our corporate ability to drop our guards, admit our needs and open ourselves to the love and service of others.  I think it is how God created us to be.  Where I am weak, you are strong, and we knit together in a way that creates and new a beautiful thing.

But we don't always allow that to be.

And I am not sure why.

Perhaps we are so afraid of what others will see or say that we feel like hiding is our only choice.  But the truth is that our fears are often unfounded because when we let down that guard what we find is that all those days when we stood still in self-imposed solitude, it had little to do with being alone and lots to do with feeling alone.  When we tell the truth, we find that so many people who are quite nearby deeply understand and can come alongside.

Are we afraid of that?

I think sometimes, we are.

The intimacy that it requires is overwhelming and it sure is hard to maintain our fortresses when we are faced with the compassion of others.  We don't know what to say and somehow believe that something must be said.  We feel guilty being in a role of receiving when the work of giving is easier for many and that strength feels good.

So deciding what we share becomes this crazy dance of trying to be honest and yet maintaining some safe distance and all of the craziness of this breaks down the dream of community and connection that lives in each of us somewhere.

So, why has this come up for me now?

Well, it is really about my heart.

So, don't freak out because I know then I will stop typing and because honestly it is not worth freaking out about. Clearly I am okay because here I sit, typing this blog to you.

I am not really sure how I landed in a place where I would feel so sick and yet not post a word about it.  I will be wrestling with that for a while.  But, I think I just didn't know what was going on with me so I wanted to wait until I could tie it up neatly and then it would be done.  But, its been two and a half weeks and I still don't know much so it seems like I am waiting for something that may never come.

So, here's the story...

Two and a half weeks ago, I started having heart palpitations.  I didn't think much about it at first.  I assumed it would go away.  I am healthy and had been feeling great.  I have lost a bunch of weight and am working out.  I eat real food and healthy food and feed my family the same.  So, I knew I could not be sick.  I am doing all that I know to do to be healthy and well.

A week went by, the palpitations continued, and I started to feel dizzy.  This, I did not like.  But still I kept on going, trying to do my regular things and keep my regular pace.  But the dizziness increased and I was feeling fatigued.  After an especially worrisome experience while driving, I was encouraged by those close to me to go to the doctor.

So I went. Which I am not quick to do.  My doc made a plan but in the meantime she was clear that I could not drive.  Sigh.  I am the mom to 4 kids.  Involved kids.  How can I possibly not drive?  Plus, I am fiercely independent and like to take care of details and shopping and all of that stuff on my own when it feels like it needs to be done.  But, that was not to be for now... which was (and is) unbelievably frustrating, to say the least.

Lots of tests went by and the docs could see that something was happening.  But what?

We didn't know until last Friday.  A final test came back on that afternoon.

The doc called with information about atrial tachycardia and said my heart was going way too fast.  She said she could see that I need relief.  So, she called in a med.

I am not a fan of meds at all.  But, at that point, I was nearly 2 weeks into feeling poorly.  I was happy as a clam to try anything she wanted to offer.  Mark ran to get it and I quickly took it... and...

It did nothing.

So finally yesterday, two and a half weeks into this craziness, I saw a cardiologist.  I was unsure but I liked him.  He was calm and took his time and tried to help me understand what it means to find out that this happening to you.  He wants to try a medication, as well.  He said it may not work but sometimes it works well if you add another medication.  For now, he wants to find a way to just get me feeling better.  Once this settles down, we can talk about the difference between treating a symptom and healing an issue.  That is a big thing for me...

In the meantime, the docs are hopeful that we will find something that settles my heart down.

So there it is.  Not so scary, see?  It is not life threatening (though it is annoying) and as soon as I am not light-headed, I can move on and get back to driving.  But I do have a lot to learn.  While my mother has had a similar thing, I still need to learn to understand this in terms of my own life and my own desire for balance and my own need for independence and activity.  I need ideas and I may even need help.  Which I struggle with... When, and if, the meds start working, I will feel a lot better.  For now, I am pretty tired and pretty frustrated and pretty weary of all of this mess.

So why did I say nothing about all of this?  Why do we feel like we need to put out posts that are entertaining or contain questions and answers or tie up situations in nice neat bows?  Does your life look like that, nice and neat?  Mine does not.

My life has moments of true joy and intentional teaching and fulfilling moments with family and friends.

And my life also has deep frustrations, unsolvable problems and limitations that I bang my head against nearly every day.

The truth is we all lives lives of also.

Life is beautiful and good.

It is ALSO dark and scary.

Life is loving and close.

It is ALSO broken and hard.

Life is captured in the wonder of pictures and heart warming stories.

It is ALSO gritty and complex and hard to describe.

Life is healthy and strong.

It is ALSO illness and need.

Every person who paints a perfect picture and complains constantly and eats only homegrown and drives through McDonald's and loves their kids and is angry at their kids and is all they hoped they'd be and nothing they thought they would be... every one.... lives an also life.  Even you.  Even me.

So, let's open ourselves up a titch and tell the truth about what we are living because the thing you need may come your way just because you decided to speak up.  The situation that is going on around you, and I know there is one because there is always one, is familiar to others and if they knew what you needed, they might just stretch out a hand.  Or pull you into an embrace.  Or come alongside and walk for a ways, when the path is uneven and dim.  Or maybe, just maybe, we will see our needs and those of others and then all sit real quiet and pray for one another and allow our also lives to be broken in upon by the grace and truth that can be found in learning that we are not alone.  And we will feel supported in a way that is divine and desired...

This, we all need.

Even you.

Even me.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gaming and What I Want

I don't want to write this.

I have been turning these questions around in my head for weeks.  Seriously.  I have been telling myself that I don't have to write about everything that perplexes me.  I don't have to question everything, either.  But this, THIS, this bothers me so much.  And I know some of you are going to be mad that I even thought about all of this, even madder that I wrote about it... but what does one do when something is so maddening and frustrating and no matter how much time goes into the the thinking about it, it still makes no dang sense.

So, you have been warned.  Might make more sense for you to click on something else.  Heck, you don't even need to leave my blog.  Looking for a recipe?  I have written lots of stuff that won't irritate you.

But this might.

So, I have two teenagers.  I love them dearly and honestly feel blessed.  I was afraid of the teen years, even blogged about that, but all the stuff I had been told about what happens to a kid on his 13th birthday was untrue.  Teens can be nice, polite and mostly clean.  Teens still love their mommas and eat with their families and love their siblings and come home at the end of the day.  And they are funny.  Sarcastic.  Thoughtful. And I love of all of that.  So our adjustment to teen-dom was really no big deal.  For the most part.

One thing that did adjust slightly is that my teen boys found that playing video games would matter some in connecting to others.  (Seriously, I told you that you should read something else.)  Mark and I understood that this sort of cultural common denominator builds a shared language that kids use to communicate.  They play similar games and talk about what they're doing and its fun and communal and so, okay, we can work with that.  Even though we have traditionally been a low-screens family, once those teen years rolled around, we set some boundaries and said yes and our teens ended up with a game system that they purchased. We placed it in an area where they would have the ability to play without our younger kids being subjected to the games teens want to play.  Still public.  And it started off well.

Because we have been screen-stingy, our kids are pretty happy working with guidelines on such things because they know that our yes did not come easy.  So they played with permission and we were aware of the games they purchased and we researched new games and said no to some they really wanted.  Because we do have one strict rule.  I do not want my children to kill people, even in a video game, for entertainment.
(I told you that you would not like this. Perhaps I can interest you in one of these posts?)

Drawing this line in the sand led to conversations like this:

"Are we against first person-shooter games?"

"Are they shooting at people or aliens?"

"Well, alien killing might be okay."

"What if the aliens look like people?"

Seriously, I hate these conversations.

So, initially our boys played games where killing aliens was deemed okay. They also played sports games, especially FIFA soccer.  There was strategy to the games and they could play with their friends through on-line connections and we did not LOVE the shooting games but we were FINE with it.  And all was right in the world.  Well, sorta.

For Christmas one year, we were hunting for games that fell within our parameters.  After a pleasant chat with a gamer/Gamestop sales person, we were introduced to the game Portal.  My boys loved it.  Seriously. There was no killing of humans and it was a cerebral game.  You had to, you know, think.  And, I know this is shocking in today's world of gaming, but my boys, brothers only 18 months apart, could actually PLAY TOGETHER!  (If you are new to the world of gaming, games are no longer created to be played together in the same room.  You can play with others, but not someone sitting next to you.  You can play with a stranger, a school friend, but not a sibling. Well, unless you have two of the same game system...)  With Portal, we would find them down there laughing and strategizing and working with one another to solve the game.  Now, even as someone who does not love screens, I could work with that.  They played Portal and Portal 2 and even heard that another Portal may be created.  Except I do not now believe it will ever come to be.  So, let me tell you why...

Fast forward to this Christmas.  Mark and I head out to do some Christmas shopping and while we wandered around Target, I found myself standing in the Leap Frog aisle.  You know this company, right?  I was lost in a nostalgic moment as I watched parents of children far younger than mine sort through whatever was left in the display of educational electronic games.  But, given the fact that it was less than two weeks until Christmas, the pickings were really slim!  Truth be told, the entire aisle looked abandoned.  Target was almost sold out.

I stood there remembering how my four children had loved those games.  I remembered how I enjoyed the fact that they were learning math, reading, even art, while they played games, read books, used devices. Even then we were careful with how much screen-time our kids enjoyed but this seemed like a good use of those precious minutes.  They felt like they were playing a game and we got to keep our eyes on our long-term goal of raising well-educated kids.  It was an easy win-win.  By the looks of that pre-Christmas Leap Frog aisle, it must continue to be this for parents today.

(Are you still with me?  I know this is long but that's what weeks of thinking will get ya.)

After leaving Target, we decided to stop at Gamestop again for game suggestions for our boys.  Our oldest had been intrigued by a game that was coming out soon... but not soon enough for Christmas.  So, we were idea hunting and naively optimistic.  Thinking that we could get another suggestion, somewhat like Portal, Mark headed in to ask.

Several minutes later, he came back out.  Empty-handed.  Dejected look on his face.

Mark described his exchange with the Gamestop salesperson like this:

"I am looking for a game for my teens that is not a first person shooter game."

"Hmm... How about this one?" said the Gamestop guy.

"Looks good.  Why is it rated M?" Mark questioned.

"Totally because of the explicit sexual content."

Stunned, Mark said, "We would prefer to not have explicit sexual content..."

The Gamestop employee responded (demeaningly), "Sir.  You have to have one or the other.  You know that, right?  If you don't want heavy violence, you have to have graphic sexual content.  You know that, right?"

Merry Christmas.

After we talked a bit in the van, we went back in together to give it another shot.  Mark told me who he had spoken to (we will refer to him as "guy in hat" from now on) and knowing that he would not be helpful, we sought out a different person and began again.

"We just don't think killing people should be entertainment for our kids.  And our kids like a game with strategy.  They loved Portal."

Stumped, they guy just stood there.  Staring at a wall with HUNDREDS of video games.  Aside from sports games (we have) or lame and somewhat juvenile superhero games, this trying-hard-to-be-helpful salesperson was unable to point to one teen-appropriate game that doesn't kill humans or have explicit sexual content. I am not kidding.

After a few minutes of rubbing his chin in thought, he said "Um... let me get some other guys to see if they have any ideas."  He started calling to other employees.  He went to call on "guy in hat" but I stopped him.

"He doesn't know." I said.

When we explained to our new helpers that we were looking for a game that does not portray humans shooting humans or explicit sexual content, all of the workers now helping audibly said, "Oooooh..."

And then silence.

Now, we are standing in a video game store with 3 gamer/worker guys who are all staring at the boxes of hundreds of video games with only these parameters for a game for teens:  Don't shoot humans.  No explicit sexual content. And they were stumped.  (Please, PLEASE, if this bothers you, tell me.  Because after this whole experience I gotta tell you, we feel pretty alone in our stance.)

A solid 20 minutes we stood there.  And finally, they came up with ONE workable (and actually really perfect fit) option.  One.  One age-appropriate game where my boys would not spend hours pretending to shoot people or watching blood gush from bullet wounds.  One game where my children would not either pretend to have sex or watch others have sex or see people in sexual situations.  One.

Don't get me wrong.  I am thrilled with the one.  I really am.  It was cerebral but not hokey.  It does have shooting but you are trying to save the world, for goodness sake!  But, it is aliens who are being shot and you cannot just play, you have to think.  You have a team of people working with you and you cannot just regenerate them so you have to protect them.  You have to be careful.  With the people.  Because humans matter in this game.  And, you know, in real life.  

And so for weeks-on-end I have thought about all this and here is what I cannot figure out.  I just cannot make sense of that empty Leap Frog aisle.

When my kids were little, we worked so hard to have them learn important things.  We were deeply aware that our time was limited and we needed to use whatever we could to teach them well.  Yes, we wanted them to have fun.  But, if we could slip some learning into that fun?  All the better!  We understood, when they were young, that everything that went into their little heads had a purpose.  It taught them a lesson, good or bad.  We read to them, drew with them, took them outside to play.  We talked about the world, our faith, the importance of family and friends.  We taught them to use their words and not their fists and to treat others with respect.  We did it, for the same reason you did.  Because it mattered.  Because they were young and impressionable.  And honestly, it was easy because other parents were doing it, too.  We shared ideas and encouraged one another.  We spoke the same language.  Not always.  But often.

And as we drove away from Gamestop that day, I just could not figure out where all that hope and planning and intentionality begins to fall away.  And maybe it hasn't.  Maybe I am just so confused that I cannot see straight. Feels that way.  But, the Gamestop was full of parents buying games for their kids that are bloody and violent and sexually charged.  And they seemingly have no issue with it.  So maybe I am the one who is wrong.  Maybe it is just plain crazy to want to keep my kids from killing as entertainment.  Maybe there is no value in teaching them that sexual acts have a sacred quality to them.  Maybe... but maybe not.

And so I just keep thinking that we change our minds about what we want for them somewhere along the line.  And I am not sure what the motivator for that change is but not knowing bothers me.  And I swear I am not trying to be judgmental and I totally get that the odd-man-out here is me.  This is most obviously a non-issue for nearly every parent who is not me.  But, I am left wondering about the impact that social norms have on our parenting.

Because the games in that store are totally the social norm.

And maybe social norms tell us what is important.  And we just listen.  Even about Leap Frog.  Except the impact of those Leap games is potentially very different from the impact of the games made for teens.

I keep wondering about how long we have to try to pour into our kids all things that are good and helpful. How long does it matter and when do we loosen our grasp on this basic desire and tell ourselves that the expectation has changed and some things, even things that bother us, might just be okay?

Because it is just a game.


And they are going to be exposed to all of this anyway.


But, I look at the faces of my two teen boys and their toddler faces shine back at me.  These are still those boys.  The boys that made me cry with their tears, who's giggles made me belly laugh, who's talents leave me speechless, who are entrusted to me to raise.  And I so want to do this well.  I make mistakes often and there is so much that we miss but I want to do right by them.  I want to use all these minutes of all these years to pour into their lives before they head out the door carrying whatever we were able to pack in their hearts for the journey ahead.

And, I look at the faces of my two teen boys and I see that they are becoming the men that they are meant to be.  And I am stuck wondering about what will matter to them as they grow up and foster friendships and relationships and start families of their own.  I wonder if watching explicit sexual content will really impact their lives with their wives... but the truth is that I believe it will.

And yes, I want them to understand and participate in current culture.  And I want them to understand what their faith has to do with their choices and I want them to see where their belief systems intersect with what happens around them.

But I also want them to see that sometimes, the disconnect is so great, that we must make another choice. Even when it is hard.  I want them to use their faith to choose their path.  I want them to know that we value life and it is not fun to pretend to take that away.

The fact that we are careful with screens and with content has been hard for our kids sometimes.  Their friends play games together that we choose not to buy.  And they can feel left out.  And I hate that.  I hate it so much.  And sometimes, I feel left out too.  I know people judge us for our line in the sand and those same people may read this and think that I am judging them.  But, the spirit of my words and my questions do not spring from judgement.  Because who I am to judge?  We know great kids, really great kids, who are gamers and thinkers and are really nice teens.  So, all of this angst is not about judgment.  And honestly, we do not need, in any way,to turn on one another.  This parenting gig is hard.  We need to stand side-by-side and not be afraid to ask questions and think aloud and try to figure it out together.  The source of my conflict over the nature of gaming comes from a different place.  Out of all the world, from all that has been created, it makes me sad that we choose to turn this into entertainment.  Violence and sexual content. Is there really nothing else? Game after game after game after game after game... Death.  Blood.  Sex. Violence.  

And what does it say when the game creators have so clearly gotten the message that they do not even create games, save for token sports disks and some lame superhero tale,  that are without these elements?  There are no educational games for teens (or none that I have found... if you know of them, PLEASE share!) and hundreds and thousands of games that portray humans killing humans...

That Portal 3 game that my boys would love?  It just doesn't fit with what is now being made.

Sometimes I want to give in or not care and say yes and just trust that the masses are right and I am thinking too much and its just a game and it doesn't matter in the great, big scope of life. I want my boys to not feel left out and to be able to connect with their friends in the way that teens today choose to connect.

And if you are still reading, I hope that you hear this part...

You know what I want more?  I want games that do not pander to the lowest common denominator and come forth from a belief that teens are smart and eager and creative.  I want games that my kids can play with their friends (and even with a sibling) that draw from the best that teens are, not the worst that we believe they can be.  I want games that are cool and intriguing and visually stunning that require my boys to use the brain they have been given to solve a problem, an issue, a war.  So that someday, what they are playing now will lead to something good that they do in real life.

Like respecting people.

Like spreading peace.

Like valuing life.

That's what I want.  

As parents, we need to choose wisely and be thoughtful about why we choose what we do.  But my issue lies firmly with the people creating these games.  Don't you dare tell me who my child is or sell him short and minimize his mind and heart!  Can't you see that teens can do more that we think and get ready to do more than we did?  Create games that lead in that way!

Because, clearly they need something deeper than Leap Frog but my desires for them have not changed. My dreams for them continue to grow.  And these few years remaining are as precious as those preschool days... these few teen years are for spending, not wasting; for learning and preparing and having a blast.

Yes, the clock is ticking.

My time is running out.

I need to be intentional still...