Into a New Season

Change, it is a-happening around here.  My oldest, my firstborn, my suddenly taller-than-me man-child who made me a mama is a Senior in high school.

A SENIOR.

He was on my hip with a blankie in hand just five minutes ago.

Add to that the preparations for the homeschool year of my younger four, (I also have a JUNIOR for crying out loud!) cutting several inches of curls off my middle’s long hair (resulting in her suddenly looking like a teenager…which she is…but still…) and finding armpit hairs on my eleven year old son and, well, I may or may not be on the verge of tears at the mere sound of a baby laughing or a toddler holding up it’s arms and saying, “Hold you!”

I could lament, or I could celebrate the season I am in.  To be honest, I’m doing a little of both.

I have no one in elementary school any more.  No one who fits into “kids-size” clothing.  No one who has a bow in their hair or baby teeth.  It’s weird.  It’s wonderful.  It’s hard.  It’s freeing.

Independence is right at their ages, for the most part.  They shouldn’t need me to butter their toast or heat up their leftovers.  They can fold their own laundry and put away the dishes.  (Now if only I could get them to clean their ROOMS!)  They can read and ride their bikes and entertain themselves, allowing me the time to do things I enjoy such as writing.

I homeschool the youngest four, which means we are together much more than we are not.  But, still, sometimes I miss them.

Oh, they are here.  I love engaging in their conversations and receive plenty of smiles and hugs, but life has dramatically changed in the past few years.  They don’t “need” me like they once did, which is both awful and beautiful at once.

I took the three youngest to the zoo today.  At ages 13, 11 and 11 (yes, that is two elevens) I wasn’t sure if they would think they were too “old” for the zoo.  I feared they might think it “lame.”

I was so gloriously wrong.

We explored and oohed and ahhed over animals we had not visited in a long time.  The new Andean Bear exhibit was breathtaking, two big bears wrestling and rolling in the grass like siblings.  My thirteen year old whispered, not knowing I could hear her, “This is awesome.”

And it was.

Memories of their childhood flooded my heart as I saw mamas with babies in carriers, strollers parked outside exhibit doors, and heard a little boy exclaim, “My pip-pops!” when his flip-flop fell off.  We all relished the sweetness of the little ones surrounding us as much as we relished the beauty and diversity of God’s handiwork.

It was a good day.  It was filled with smiles and sunshine and, for just a few hours, I felt like I was standing astraddle of the gap between life as it was and life as it is.  I saw the wonder of a little child in the faces of my not-so-little kids and I am just so thankful for the respite of remembering before the busyness of our school year begins.

Times are changing, old seasons are gone, but if I take a moment and open my eyes to what is before me I can see the hope and future of these children in whom I have invested my life.  Despite the hormones and, dare I say, attitude of the pre-teen and teen years, the remnants of the little ones who once placed their chubby hands in mine are still there.

Now the hands I hold are bigger, stronger, and maybe even calloused.

But they fit mine perfectly just like they always have.

Contentment and Community

Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.

Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.

But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.

I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.

But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of  shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:

Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.

Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.

But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.

There is joy in true community.

There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”

There is joy in connection, even when the process  involves vulnerability and tears.

And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.

A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.

Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.

Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!

This is the gift of community.

This is the heart of relationships.

Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.

woman sitting on chair near laptop computer
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Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.  baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpeg

And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.

low angle photo of people doing huddle up
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If You Lack a Mentor: In Gratitude to Sally Clarkson

As a now “older mom” among many of my friends, I found myself in an odd and often lonely season of motherhood.  It is so easy to make friends when our kids are little.  Playdates at the park or story times at the library are the perfect conditions for forming friendships around the common experience of mothering.  But there comes a time when the kids grow up and our day-to-day interactions with them vary to such a degree from what others around us may be experiencing that mothering can no longer be an easy common ground from which a friendship can spring.  The friendships are based on other things.  Good things.  But not necessarily common parenting styles (or outcomes!).

Then there was the realization that, as an “older mom,” I lacked a mentor for myself…someone who has weathered the storms and walked through the hardships that are the reality of raising children to adulthood.  The lack was not out of desire to have one, but out of the practical nature of my life these days…finding time to sit and chat over coffee is difficult to do.  Homeschooling four children, parenting five, shuffling kids to ball practice, dance, music, youth group, doctors’ appointments, etc (and carving out time to practice my cello!) consume my daytime hours very quickly.  Then factor in the reality that we recently moved into a new neighborhood in a new town and, well, building a mentoring relationship just takes time.  Time that I haven’t had.

Do you relate to this?

Enter Sally Clarkson.

sally clarkson

I had heard of her for a couple of years and knew she had homeschooled her children ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.  Nothing less than a heroic feat, in my book.  Because teenagers.

Anyway, I began to listen to her podcast, “At Home with Sally” and in this older woman, who I have never met, I found what I needed.

A mentor.

Sally raised four children who all turned out to be amazing, gifted adults that love Jesus and love their mama.  But that is not why I love her.  I love Sally because what she did was not easy.  Learning disabilities, mental illness, tragedy and hardship were all part of her story of mothering.  She is honest about those things, honest about her failures and successes.  She looks back through the lens of experience and wisdom and gently reminds us that, though there are things we can do to foster life in our homes, above all our kids belong to the Lord and we can trust Him with them. Somehow, in her quiet voice, she speaks loudly into my flaws and struggles, encouraging me to not let failure prevent me from taking the next step, or from loving when it is hard.  She has taught me that much of my tension comes from being highly idealistic, which is not a bad thing but can certainly be frustrating to certain members of my family.  Ahem.  She models selflessness and faith and the gift of hospitality as a form of worship.  She reminds me to light candles and warm up the pancake syrup because those little things speak into the hearts of my children and draw them close.  In the difficult seasons of my life, Sally reminds me to hope and to never, ever give up.  God uses broken vessels.

I’m most definitely a cracked pot in His Kingdom!

I don’t know if you have a mentor.  I certainly hope you do.  But if that is something you wish for I would love to introduce you to Sally.  She doesn’t know me, has no idea this little corner of the internet even exists, but I feel that so many of my friends would benefit from letting her speak truth as we drive our kids to appointments or get ready in the mornings. Nothing can replace real-life relationships and face-to-face conversation, but someone like Sally has filled a much-needed gap in my life.  And while my “real” friendships grow and develop I feel that what I am learning from her will serve me well as I move forward into this next phase of life.   I will share the links below.  I receive nothing for this.  It is purely out of a desire to bless you that I share Sally Clarkson with you.

Life With Sally – a membership site worth every penny.  https://lifewithsally.com/

Whole Heart Ministries – helping Christian parents raise wholehearted children.  wholeheart.org

At Home with Sally and Friends – if you do nothing else, subscribe to this.  I anticipate each new episode every week, listening to many of them over and over.  Rich with stories, hope and encouragement, Sally’s gentle voice is always calming to my often fretting heart.  http://sallyclarkson.com/podcast/

 

 

 

That time I bought a Cello.

For most of my life, really…as far back as I can remember…I have dreamed of playing a stringed instrument.  Violin, guitar, what-have-you, they all have seemed so beautiful and unreachable to me.  Growing up, I played piano and clarinet.  Strings were not an option at my school.  But, for the past couple of years, I have found myself fantasizing about playing Cello.  We would go to concerts and I would be drawn to the cellists, the sound of the instrument, the grace of the bow, the posture of the musicians.  As an alto vocally, the Cello spoke to me because it is always that steady low voice that stabilizes the chord.  Though often not in the spotlight singing lead, when it does take center stage…wow.

So last week we went to another concert and I watched a young bass player named Scott Mulvahill ROCK OUT.  I mean, really.  Who would have thought a standing bass could do what he makes it do?  But it does and he obviously has so much fun on that stage.  (Look him up on YouTube.  He is amazing!)

We drove home after the concert and I mulled over my feelings and longings once again.  I’m 45, y’all.  Not exactly a young thang anymore.  Many might think I’m too old to start something big and new.

I decided to disagree with that.

Early the next morning I drove to a music store in a daze of mid-life crisis and desperate longing. I parked my Ford Explorer and looked at the doors of Music & Arts, the sign saying “open” and my heart racing.  I summoned up my courage, walked into the store and looked at the young man who greeted me.

Deep breath.

“I’d like to rent a Cello.” (Did I really just say that out loud?)

“Is this for you?” he asked kindly.

I am probably old enough to be his mother.

I swallowed hard and broke out into a cold sweat. A COLD SWEAT.  I am not exaggerating ONE BIT.

“Yes,” I said calmly.  “Yes, it is.  I’m having a mid-life crisis and I want to learn to play the Cello.”  (Yes, I really said that.  Insert forehead smack here.)

He smiled (I can only IMAGINE what he was thinking) and said, “Ok, well…”

And we proceeded to look around, discussing lesson options and logistics.  Then it turned out that they had a beautiful Cello ON SALE and buying (instead of renting) would save me thousands of dollars over the course of the next few years so…

Y’all.

I BOUGHT IT.

I bought, not rented, a cello.

At 45.

It was like saying, “I do.  Til death do us part.”

But with a bow instead of a diamond.

I own the baby and it is MINE.

The salesman tuned it for me and put it in its case.  I looked at it longingly, afraid to even touch it just yet.  It is just so beautiful.  And it is mine.

MINE.

I set up the payment plan and bought a beginner book and tuner, though I didn’t know the first thing about tuning a Cello.  (What were the names of the strings again?) I carried it to my car and willed myself to breathe normally as I drove home, completely shocked at what I had just done.

But now?

Oh, glory.  The moment I pulled Sofia out of her case (Yes, I named my Cello.  Don’t judge.) I felt this JOY course through my veins.  I pulled the bow across the strings and, despite the scratchiness, to me it sounded beautiful…like something I had waited my entire life to hear. The vibrations that resonate through the Cello when it is leaned back against my chest as I play are like balm.  They calm me despite the fumbling and hiccups as I learn to hold the bow and draw it straight across the strings.  I have found a teacher (Sarah Joy) via YouTube and practice every single day, loving each and every minute of it.  My fingertips are becoming calloused and the sound is coming along.

I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb!

And Jingle Bells!

There is something so satisfying and rewarding about working through that beginner book and the videos one day at a time.  It is in enjoying the process, seeing progress from day-to-day, that I have hope to be making real music a year from now.  (Does this NOT have endless spiritual parallels???) Maybe over the summer I’ll take lessons from a real, face-to-face teacher when we are not in the throes of homeschooling.  But regardless, I love it.

I absolutely love it.

Listen, you are never too old to try something new.  I’m realizing that it is really good for my children to see me do this, to hear my squeaks and squawks and see me fight to create beauty through this challenging instrument.  And it’s good for me.  I had this dream and it wasn’t going anywhere.  I believe God wants this for me and I could not be more excited.  I’m praying for Him to give me the ability to do this and do it well for His glory.  What a gift it would be to sit near the back of the stage during worship, accompanying the beautiful choruses with the melancholy alto of my Cello!  That is my goal.

I’m 45 years old and just beginning.  By the time I am 50 I’ll be so glad I didn’t wait any longer.

What are YOU waiting for?  What keeps you from plunging in and going for it?  What if you started today?  Now?

Because, let me tell you, every time I take that bow in my hand I feel JOY.  Pure, simple joy.

It is going to be a good journey.  I can feel it.