Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Goodbye, Big Mama

Our oldest just celebrated her thirteenth birthday, which means that we just celebrated our thirteenth year of successful parenting. Yay, us! And if I'm being honest, which is kind of the point of writing through one's feelings, I'd like to hang up my parenting hat.

I mean. Thirteen years is a long time to commit to something, right? I've never done ANYTHING consistently for thirteen years. I feel like we've got a pretty good product, she's doing fairly well for herself, I'm quite satisfied with a job well done.

If only.

Parents are really good about warning other parents about "what's next." Sometimes it's discouraging, and sometimes it's super helpful. Sometimes it's contradictory - Two is really hard, No wait til they're THREE - but everyone seems to be in agreement that Thirteen is one of the Seven Circles of Hell.

So, right when you're feeling pretty good about getting the training wheels off and pushing this little person to maturity and you're ready to coast...there's a steep incline and a dramatic gear shift. You get to the last mile and there's a hill on the course.

And it's a weird thing, because it's not that they require more of you - it's that they require less, but what they do require is something they really need: YOU. And for ME, this is proving to be more than I was prepared for.

Control is a big thing for me. I have a Big Mama side that has ruled the roost for the last thirteen years and honestly, she's pretty badass. (sorry for saying badass, mom) Big Mama has enforced bedtimes as if the earth's rotation depended on little eyes being shut on time. Big Mama has leveraged play dates, canceled sleepovers, taken sweets away for weeks at a time. And let me tell you, Big Mama is good at what she does. But her days are numbered - or over - (until A Boy shows up) and I'm here now figuring out who it is that takes her place, because right now, I don't have a clue.

My best friend keeps reminding me that this young woman living in my house is temporarily insane, so I suppose I should find Big Therapist somewhere in there. But then this kid is also delightful and funny, so Big Friend might be nice. Most days it feels like all she needs is Big Chauffer and Big Shopper, which makes me feel like Big Doormat.

So, pray for a sister, wouldya? It's not that I wasn't warned - it's that I wasn't expecting it to happen overnight...and I wasn't prepared for my role to be written out of the script and replaced with all of these swing parts. I'm not quite ready to share my adulthood with her. It's pretty overwhelming.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's Time to Stop the Bleeding: A Manifesto on Friendship

I'm gonna need some help, South Florida. We're losing the good ones.


As a native South Floridian, which is kind of a novelty, there is one conversation I have with
people all the time. It goes like this:

Normal people: So do you ever get used to this heat?
Me: Yes.

Of course there's more to the story, but I know that generally people aren't really interested in how I, personally, deal with the oppressive weather. They just want to make the unique observation that I live in a place that can feel hotter than the surface of the sun. I assume it would be like living in New York City and getting asked if you see famous people all the time, but less glamorous. Maybe it's more like living in LA and being asked about the traffic.

But there is another conversation that happens way too often, and it's one that breaks my heart, every time.

Normal people: We're moving. (Other variations: Our 5-year-plan is to move away; We can't wait to get out of here; We vacationed in XYZ place last week and we're thinking about living there; the list goes on.)
Me: Yeah. I know.

And I do know. Before a plan is voiced, I know that they've got a foot out the door. It's a sixth sense that develops after years of hearing the same things over and over again. It's an acute ability to spot a pattern. And as hard as I try to set it aside and just love people while they're here, knowing that their sights are set elsewhere taints the relationship because, frankly, I can't spare the emotions.

Unless it's a job transfer, the reasons are ALWAYS the same. And they're valid. It IS hot here. People ARE generally nicer other places. It IS important and helpful to live near family. It's expensive, our schools are struggling, swimsuit weather, all the time = beach body pressure, all the time. Our sports teams flounder, our culture is questionable, there are nude ladies on the top of every cab in town.

Friends, I want you to know: We know. We get it. We're raising our kids here, too, and we wince at those Solid Gold signs every time. Just like you do.

But how is it ever going to get any better, if all the good people leave?

The thing is, I don't buy those as reasons for leaving. Those are greener-grass issues. What I do buy: Lack of community.

What I now believe is that people who choose to leave do so not because they don't want to meet their demise in the Publix parking lot (valid, but I'd like to point out that those aren't natives trying to run you over).

People choose to leave because no one has convinced them to stay.  They leave, because they have nothing to lose. They can imagine starting over, because they're not leaving a piece of their heart behind.

I write from a unique perspective, which is as a person in South Florida who is well- and deeply-connected. I have relationships here so important to me that I would sooner pose for one of those Solid Gold ads for extra cash than move away to somewhere more affordable. So maybe it's easy for me to sit here and rant about all the people we've seen pack up over the years.

But I want you to understand: it has taken 15 years to get to this point.

FIFTEEN. YEARS.

When we first moved here after college, I wasn't "moving home." I actually had no friends still in town, and everyone we knew was my parents' age. So we spent a lot of time with mom & dad, which was a neat time for us, but that didn't satisfy all of our needs as a young married couple. We dreamed a lot about where we'd go if it made sense - the grass was greener EVERYWHERE than here. We tried to connect - we joined a small group in our giant church, only to discover that all of those people were already somehow related to each other and didn't have an interest in getting to know us - or even in recognizing us on Sunday.

But then: A family friend who was a little ahead of us in life stage gave us a tremendous gift, which has taken on new meaning for me 14 years later.

She gave us friends.

She has always been in the business of matchmaking. A well-connected South Floridian herself, she has a masterful ability to see someone's needs and put them in touch with someone who might be able to meet them.

So when she set us up on a blind date with our first friends, it was love at first sight. They became family, because we were all here together, in this weird place. We went through some huge milestones together - first kids, first home purchases, new jobs. In time, our first friends moved away, and even though we knew it was coming, it felt like ripping off a Band-Aid. But faithful God saw that coming and had moved us to a smaller church where we had already begun growing our circles and building relationships that now, after 15 years in the same neighborhood, blur the lines between friendship and blood.

When people tell us they're moving, I used to feel responsible. I assumed it was because I wasn't a good enough ambassador for this crazy place, I wasn't welcoming enough or hospitable enough or loving enough. I, personally, didn't make enough effort toward getting them to stay. By not drawing them into our own community before they set their sights on the greener grass, I'd failed. And I assumed that they'd leave, grumbling about how all they'd wanted was a friend and Amy just didn't come through.

Because it's all about me, and my ability to FIX EVERYTHING.

But what I have now realized is the wisdom shared by my friend 14 years ago. She understood that it was not her responsibility to be all things to all people. She, as a working mom of three homeschooled kids with her own established community, wasn't in a place to be the friend that I needed. She could have added more to her busy schedule, found sitters for her kids and neglected existing friendships to take me to lunch, mentor me, try to bring me into their world so that I would just feel like we had some friends, but it would have been at significant cost to her and not, ultimately, satisfying to either of us, regardless of how much we enjoyed each other's company. It didn't make her too busy for me, or aloof or not interested. It meant she was wise. She was protecting what God had already given her, and using her God-given gifts and placement to help us.

She knew what she had to offer - her connections - and she freely gave. By removing herself from the equation, she freed us to connect with the people who were exactly what we needed.

And now that I'm in her position, it's what I have to give, too. The relationships I cling so closely to, the kind that everyone desires deep down, have taken a really long time to build, and they have been messy and intentional and full of dry spells and painful and fun and filled with grace and all with people who stayed. It can't happen if you don't stay, wherever you are. And those relationships can't be maintained, if we all try to be all things to all people, because someone is going to get left behind.

So here's the story, South Florida, you lovely bunch of weirdos. We are losing too many good ones, and I can't be the only one fighting. Step up. Be nice. Make a new friend today, or make a new match today. Don't assume everyone else is at the party without you.

And if you're planning to leave...maybe don't tell us. Give us a chance to show you the real us - not the us we save for people who are sticking around. We might just change your mind. And if we don't, I pray that wherever you land, you're able to stay, because that's what it takes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A New Stage

I remember staring down at this little blonde headed girl as we were about to get the school day started and thinking, "I can't do this anymore." Her shining hair, always worn in two long braids, grabbed the sunlight and brought tears to my eyes as I faced the inevitable. 

I was tired. Tired of getting places on time. Of meeting the demands of others. Of fighting this strong little being at the end of each day when she was worn out from performing her best for others all day long.

We were going to have to home school. Maybe, at home, we'd have time to get to know each other better. She'd have time to do her thing, and somewhere in there we'd fit in some education. Maybe, at home, we'd get the best of each other.

We made it five years.

Now I stare into the face of this young woman who is tall enough to look me in the eye, and I tear up because once again, I'm tired. It is time for me to surrender my baby girls and turn the page on a new chapter, with adventures and struggles of its own.

We've come to the end of a sweet season, and as we transition into traditional school, with its schedules and homework and peers, I am in a kind of fog. It's a combination of Senioritis - an exultant "WE'RE DONE!!!" coursing through my psyche, and mourning. I think of all of the things we did together and I'm sad because those free spirited days of let's-go-to-the-beach-and-call-it-school are coming to an end, but then I remember all of the things I was too tired/busy/sick/mad to do - little things, like "History" and "Science" - and I do a happy dance as I shake those things off my plate and onto a third party who gets the blame if they score poorly.

I'm clearing out shelves of curriculum, books upon books that we grew out of without ever getting to, watching my best intentions get packed into boxes marked "eBay." I'm mentally making plans for school hours - what do people do all day? I'm thinking about how life will be with just a three-year-old at home all day. Mommy-and-me...have we missed that window?

It's a funny season...being actively stripped of identity after identity, watching tightly held responsibilities loosen themselves from my grip and float away. Enjoying the rest, but wondering what I'm being prepared for is a little unnerving. For now, I'm thinking God knows I'm going to need every bit of energy available to parent a middle school girl.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Put me in, Coach! Or don't. That's cool too.

Two posts ago, I wrote about being a recovering accomplisher, and how it felt okay to stop mid-project and say, effectively, "lesson learned...next?"

It's a great post. I just re-read it and I really agree with myself on it.

But it didn't stick. It never does.

I must have written it expecting there to be a "next thing" right around the corner. OK, coach, got it! Yessir! Thanks for that lesson! I'm ready to play!

But I haven't really been thrown in the game. Instead, for a few months, I've been feeling more like a ball girl...or sometimes even a fan without a ticket. One by one, the things that I've held onto, the contributions that I thought made me a valued team member - have been stripped away. Some through humbling physical trials, some through limitations brought on by this crazy life stage, some as gifts that just aren't working as well right now. They are all things that have me (or someone else) saying "not you, not right now."

I was whining to my pastor about it, and he called them idols, so now I'm looking for a new church.

Just kidding about that part. He was right. God's not done stripping me of me - even though some of these things are really good, healthy things. Fitness? Serving my church? Writing? The pattern seems to be that anything that provides me any kind of identity or self-worth is now a free agent.

I'd been a little teary and feeling a little sorry for myself, (okay, a lot sorry for myself), and my weepy, sorry self shared what was going on with our community group this week:

 *Sniff* I'm just a mom and *sniff* I can't really do anything right now because my hip hurts and my kids are crazy *sniff, sniff* and I don't really know who I am because *sniff, sniff, sniff* everything that makes me, me is STRIPPED AWAY. WAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!

And then they prayed for me, because that's what you do when someone starts crying at community group. But you wanna know what God said, right then and there, immediately? (I believe He said it clearly and quickly because God knows that my attention span is shorter than a three-year-old's right now and He'd better act quickly if He has something I need to hear). He said: 

Enjoy your vacation.

In his boundless grace, God took the opportunity to remind me that rest is good, and that this season, in all of its seemingly aimless wandering, is a gift. Though there's not a lot of physical rest happening, I am being sheltered from dealing with the expectations - real or perceived - of myself and those around me. It's a time that I will probably look back on with sentiment and nostalgia as a time when I was being stripped, refined and prepared for my next position on the team. I think He was saying "Stop coming to practice while you're on vacation.You're doing enough.We're running pretty smoothly, but we'd still love to have you around. We're going to win whether you're on the court or not. So spend your days at the beach and your nights in the stands - that's where you belong right now. You will always be on the team."

So yesterday, I literally took myself to the beach. Right in the middle of the day. I set aside the to-do list that I save for my only two hours a week to myself, decided not to try to solve any problems or make any plans, and in the fullness of God's grace I sat there on the sand, alone. I didn't even bring a book. It was amazing. Not because I was at the beach, and not because I was alone, but because for the first time in forever, I felt like it was okay. It was okay to not try to accomplish anything. It was okay to not move forward. It was okay not to use the time to make myself smarter, or my house cleaner, or my life more efficient, or to contribute to the team. It was more than okay. It felt wild and crazy. Reckless. Kind of Thelma & Louisey. It was healing.

My friend, I hope that you are also finding freedom in God's grace. And I hope that you have a community of grace like mine, who will call out your idols, point you to the Gospel, and pack your beach bag for you.