Open House for the First Child and The Last Child: There’s a Difference.

books and apple

Everyone knows there’s a big difference in how you handle the first born, the middle child, and the youngest. Recently, I went to 8th grade Open House and had to laugh at myself as I saw the difference so clearly.

It’s significant. And I started to make a mental list…

Open House Experience for First Born Child

I arrived early and brought a pen and notebook and took copious notes. On everything.

I introduced myself to every single teacher, wanting to make a good impression and create a strong home/school connection.

I worried about my kid’s credits and weighted grades and asked questions. (I know. I’m sorry. I was that parent.  Meanwhile, everyone else was just wanting to hurry up and get the hell home.)

I questioned personalities and teaching styles and wondered if they were a good fit for my child.

I stressed over the thought of detentions and policies and school protocol. High School seemed so complicated! And everyone looks so serious about everything!

When I got home, I grilled him: “Mrs. So and So said you should be reading 20 minutes every night. Are you? I don’t think I ever see you reading?! And did you know Math help is available every single day after school? No excuse for low grades! There’s always help! And by the way, join a club! There’s hundreds to choose from! Pick something. You’ve got to do something besides sports to be a well-rounded student! These things matter!”

chalk board

I was a lot. But it didn’t seem that way at the time! It seemed CRUCIAL to my kid’s success! I was on every committee and super involved and super– well, just super. I was a school district’s dream. Free work! Professional volunteer! Call me! I’ll do it!

Five or Six years later and a Middle Child in there as well, I was pretty entertained by my own transformation. Things are a bit more… relaxed, shall we say?

Open House Experience for Last Child

Crap! That’s tonight???

Quick glass of wine because… well… because.

Running a few minutes late, but show up just in time. I think I’ve got a pen here somewhere.

Listen to chorus teacher but feel very distracted by the woman next to me and her boyfriend. Discreetly jump on Twitter and tweet about the awkwardness of bringing your BF to Open House. It just seems excessive. But maybe that’s just me. #IDontThinkHeWantsToBeHere

Decide there is nothing here, in any of these classes, I need to take notes on. Who does that? I’m pretty sure all of this info is on the website.

Mr. Math Teacher is kind of hot. Just sayin’. I think she’ll do just fine in here.

Why does this same mother keep asking so many questions? Why doesn’t she just chat with the teacher afterward? Schedule a conference, Lady. Nobody cares about your kid’s credits but you.

This computer teacher has now talked for fifteen solid minutes about the importance of typing and building a strong foundation with the Home Row keys. Honestly, I just had a broken wrist and collarbone and still managed to “type”. Pretty sure the kids will fight through it.

Of course when I got home, my child wanted to know all about it.

“It was great! I loved your teachers–especially Math. This is going to be your best year yet!”


And I believe it–I love my kid’s school. I love teachers. And I mean no disrespect. Also, I forgot to join the PTO, but that was a complete oversight. It’s just that with a little more parenting under my belt, I value a more balanced perspective this time around.

Rookie parents: It all works out somehow. Everything’s going to be okay. Even when it seems like it won’t be, it will. Of course be informed. Of course be involved– but cut yourself some slack, too. And as you already know, the ride goes light years faster than you think, so try to enjoy it while you’re on it.

And DJ, sorry bud. I was trying to be Super Everything, which also included Super Annoying.

A Message to My Kids about Adulting


We talk a lot about Adulting in our house. And by we, I mean the kids and I. Yes, that’s right. The kids and I give each other a lot of high fives and butt smacks and ‘Atta Girls for Adulting.

Adulting: Forcing yourself to do crap you don’t really want to do because you’d rather do something else or you’re afraid you don’t know how to do it.

As my kids have gotten older, it seems almost daily they’re faced with new and sometimes challenging situations, and I keep hearing myself coach them the same way I coach myself through this whole Adulting thing.

It’s not that I’m BETTER at Grown Up Tasks or that I LIKE doing them. It’s just that one day you realize, if you don’t do this stuff, then who will? There’s a cost to not having your shit together. And it can be pretty expensive. (Like $70 in overdue library fines expensive. Because that’s the type of badassery we commit around here.)

adulting pic3

I vividly remember being in high school and lying on that luxurious red shag carpet and worrying about how to be an adult. (Can you even imagine? RED SHAG. It went with the tulip wallpaper. Bless.) In my neon green Champion sweatshirt and oversized scrunched down socks, I wondered, ‘How does everyone do this? Buy a house and a car and pay bills and all of this scary stuff. How do they know how to do it? It seems like a lot. Will I be able to? Will I be okay? What if I’m not good at it?’ But somehow, I’m doing it!

So this is what I want my kids to remember about Adulting:

None of us knows exactly what we’re doing.

And the way through Adulting never really changes:

  • Ask yourself what you already know about the situation
  • Ask questions or advice of the people around you
  • Ask for help

I used to be embarrassed to ask for help. But now I have absolutely no problem saying to someone, “You know what? This is not in my wheelhouse, so I don’t really understand it. Can you explain it again? And again? Okay, one more time…”

It seems like after I do something I’ve been putting off or that I wasn’t sure about, I almost always have the same reaction: It really wasn’t so hard after all and I’m not sure why I was scared to do it.

And the best part of Adulting is once you DO get your stuff done, you can sleep better at night. You can stop obsessing over the phone call you haven’t made yet. The bill you haven’t paid. The errand you were supposed to run last week. You can relax and enjoy yourself, guilt free.  Unless you have to work. And in that case, get your butt out the door, because let’s face it, work is the cornerstone of Adulting.

If you’re still feeling stuck though, there’s just one other invaluable skill necessary for successful Adulting: Googling. No shame in my game, y’all.

What thing in your life says, “Hey Look! I’m Adulting!” like no other? I’d love to hear it!


Cupcakes and Dance Parties Just for Showing Up

I recently caught up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and not surprisingly, we spent a good deal of time talking about our kids. She is an amazing mom, and it’s no surprise that her kids are all doing super amazing things. No. Seriously. SUPER amazing.  As the conversation continued, I could feel myself starting to get an icky feeling inside. I was starting to compare myself to her. And as soon as we wrapped things up and I got in my car, the tears were caught in my throat.

Right away, Logic told me, “This is ridiculous. You are ridiculous. You have had COMPLETELY different lives and paths. There is NO WAY you can possibly start doing this to yourself.”

Logic is an insensitive A-hole. Logic clearly did not just hear everything I heard.

Because my heart wasn’t having it. My heart was having a teeny tiny meltdown. If there’s one thing a mom really wants to know, it’s that she’s doing a good job. And in that moment, I was starting to doubt myself.

If you’ve been around here any length of time then you already know some of my blog topics repeat themselves. And you also know they repeat themselves because apparently it takes me a long time to learn some of life’s lessons. Possibly longer than the Average Bear. We don’t know why this is. And we don’t exactly know who the hell this Average Bear is, except that my dad has been comparing he and I my entire life and it would seem that I always come out ahead.

And so I am still learning about my worth. As a woman and as a mom. And how I measure that worth. And who else I allow to measure that worth. Because not everybody should be allowed to.

Fast forward a few weeks to today…

It’s been a really positive, really satisfying Mama Week here. One kid has an article in today’s Buffalo News. Again. She went to a Buffalo Bandit’s game and made all of the arrangements ahead of time to get behind-the-scenes access to players and personnel. She rocked it.

Another kid has been going to school softball tryouts all week and just found out she made the team. We LOVE all things baseball in this family– and now softball, too– so it’s a big deal.

College kid is alive and well. And I know this because when I texted him and asked if he is Alive and Well (also known as the A & W Text),  he responded “YES”. He’s going to class and playing baseball and working and paying his bills. And happy. Bless his heart. Seriously.

Huge happy mama sigh of relief and satisfaction.

But the thought occurred to me, as I was lying awake at 3:30 a.m. this morning, what if none of these things were true?

What if there WASN’T an article in today’s paper? Either because it didn’t meet the publication standards, or because my kid never followed through on what she needed to do to make it happen? What would that mean?

What if my other kid didn’t make the team? What if she just wasn’t good enough? What then?

And what if College kid WASN’T going to class and taking care of business?

What would all of that mean for me as a mom? For my self-worth? For my Motherhood Job Review?

Sometimes people in our world can be pretty harsh critics of our parenting choices, but I’m not sure anyone is harder on us than ourselves. And I think almost DAILY, we’re tempted to compare ourselves and/or our kids to other parents and kids, just to see if we’re doing this whole thing semi-decently.

And so as I lay there this morning, I knew I needed to remind myself: If none of these things had happened, I am still doing a good job. If none of these things EVER happen again, I am still showing up and doing a good job. And so are my kids.

As exciting as these accomplishments are. As proud as they make me, I want to keep emphasizing who we are becoming over what we are doing and achieving. I want to keep learning and teaching and modeling healthy relationships. Kindness. Love. Acceptance. Tolerance. Generosity of spirit. Goodness and grace.

If all we ever do is keep showing up and being brave, even when it’s hard and scary and we’re not sure how the whole thing is going to turn out, you better believe we will still keep celebrating with cupcakes and dance parties.

And if it turns out somebody gets their name in the paper or we hit a few home runs along the way, that will be pretty cool, too.

Effing the Whole Thing Up and Still Being Awesome

Elliott Erwitt New Rochell, NY, 1955 (busy mom)

Some girlfriends and I were sitting around the dining room table, drinks and appetizers scattered between us, ruminating as usual over love, life and relationships. And despite it being Girls’ Night, and despite our best efforts, the conversation inevitably steered itself toward our children. Toward motherhood. Toward parenting. To our fears and failures. Our triumphs and trials. Our daily insecurities of, as I like to say, “Effing the whole thing up.”

The conversation wore on and a common thread remained: Each one of us is hard at work trying to keep our kids from pain. We’re all trying desperately to keep our kids from screwing up. From making a mess. From making the same mistakes we did.

It’s scary. And tiring.

But more than that?

It’s impossible.

In her new book, Carry On, Warrior, Author, Blogger and Speaker Glennon Doyle Melton  (on whom I have an enormous girl and writing crush) says this:

My most important parenting job is that I teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being messed-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human and that is this: Forgive yourself. 

Oh. I love this. I want to frame this in my kitchen and stitch in on my pillowcase so that every time I’m tempted to think I could possibly ever possess enough power and persuasion to keep my kids from making mistakes and screwing up their lives, I pause. I pause to remind myself that while I’m responsible for healthy coaching and boundaries and discipline, there are, in fact, limits to my reach. As well there should be. We’re separate from our kids in the best of ways. It’s how we belong to ourselves and not our parents. It’s how we learn our own truth and feel our own feelings. Think our own thoughts. And really, become our own person. Big, messy mistakes and all.

And isn’t the struggle how we all learn to become?

[Side note~ I vividly remember being about 17 years old and actually shouting at my mom, “LET ME MAKE MY OWN MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM!” Whew. Let me just say, make my own mistakes I did. Repeatedly. I did a very, very fine job making the mistakes I so brazenly declared I NEEDED TO MAKE. Jury’s still out on the whole “learning from them” part. Some things only become a WTF in hindsight.]

But as difficult as parenting can be, this I feel like I can do.

I can teach my kids to be human and to forgive themselves.

Every day. All the time. For the rest of forever.  And I’m learning it myself right now so that I can model it for them: Learning to be totally okay with the perfectly imperfectness of life.  Accepting that it’s messy. That I’m not always sure of myself, and I don’t always have it all together. And that’s okay. I’m carrying on anyway. And forgiving myself a thousand times a day because I’m human. Kids will learn to be gentle and gracious and compassionate to themselves when they watch how it’s done and then feel it extended to them.

Glennon goes on to say, “We have to forgive ourselves…and then oh my goodness…find ourselves sort of awesome, actually, considering the freaking circumstances.”

And so there it is. Considering the freaking circumstances, whether you got where you are today by your own fault or someone else’s, or just because life can be so damn hard, forgive yourself. You are exceptional at being human and even if you’re effing the whole thing up, you’re still actually sort of awesome. Forgive yourself and start all over again tomorrow.

frankl quote

It’s the Little Things that Make a Wonderful Life


“What if you woke up one day and it turned out your whole life was only a dream?”

My older daughter Casey shared this quote with me the other day. She read it somewhere recently and it really spoke to her.

As she and I went back and forth about the craziness of this concept and how it would feel and what it would be like, what struck me the most was this: She said she’d be devastated. Because– and I quote, “I have a pretty damn good life.”


I was not expecting that.

I was not expecting that, given our family history– her father’s death when she was just a baby, my recent divorce and all of the preceding circumstances, and some of her own personal struggles in the past– I just wasn’t expecting to hear that she loves her life so much.

On sleepless nights, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about everything I haven’t been able to give my kids (read: an intact happy family) and the variety of loss they’ve experienced in their lives. I think as parents, especially, we tend to think it’s all much more complicated than it really is. And although at times my kids do feel the rough edges of brokenness rub up against them, it’s not how they define themselves or how they view their lives as a whole. There are tons of little things that give them so much happiness and make them feel loved.

And as it turns out, it’s the little things that make life wonderful, even when the very big things don’t measure up.

My daughter’s remark got me thinking. There are really only a few things any us of need to feel like it’s a pretty wonderful life after all. And the more people I talk to, the more I’m convinced that especially during the Christmas season, we cannot be reminded of this enough.

So what exactly makes the short list?  

Love that makes us feel secure

Feeling accepted for who we really are

A passion that lights us up

Lots of laughter

Being surrounded by people who genuinely like us

These are the things that make a wonderful life. It isn’t about creating an atmosphere of perfection. We never could anyway. It’s about tons of love, grace, and laughter. It’s about really connecting with each other. It’s about pursuing things that speak to our souls and set our hearts on fire. It’s about friends that feel like family and family that feels like friends.

George Bailey would’ve lassoed the moon for Mary. But even that was too much.

Mary toasted her friends simply by wishing them this~

“Bread. That this house may never know hunger.

Salt. That life may always have flavor.”

To which George added, “And wine! That joy and prosperity may reign forever!”

And in the end, it’s the bread, salt, and wine of life. The little things that make it wonderful, even when the big things may not be perfect.

Cheers to the little things~

And cheers to a truly wonderful life.

It’s Thursday and This is What I’m Reading: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years



“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, chronicles the process of two movie producers working with author Donald Miller to turn his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, into a film. The producers keep looking for ways to make the movie more exciting, because the reality is, Don’s life is actually pretty boring and directionless. It’s missing the essential elements of a good story: Overcoming hardship and suffering, living with meaning and purpose. Miller goes on a quest to change his story. He finds his father, chases true love, and sets out for adventure– changing his life from boring reality to meaningful narrative.

The idea of our lives unfolding as a story is not a new concept. But with self-deprecating humor and deep vulnerability about his internal life, Miller strikes a completely fresh chord. His usual conversational tone is what makes this book so relatable and makes living a better story seem so doable.

One of my favorites parts of the book was when Don and a friend are having coffee. His  friend is lamenting over the troubles he and his wife are having with their teenage daughter and the poor dating choices she’s made. Don casually comments to his friend that his daughter needs a better story~

“He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence…”

The father goes on to make dramatic changes in their family story, taking them to Mexico to volunteer at an orphanage. It changes his daughter’s entire perspective on life. It gives her story the meaning it had been missing. “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

If you only read one book this year (which is like, ridiculous and I’m so unhappy with you if that’s true), I want it to be A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. 

This is what I thought:

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives and I waste a lot of time waiting for “someday”.  Someday is a myth that keeps you on the sidelines of your life. Someday is never going to come. 
Living a better story starts now. Today. With whatever chapter I’m in. Today’s choices write tomorrow’s chapters.

is what I felt:

“A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.”

I’m afraid I’m telling the people around me that Target and clothes and coffee and beer and Pinterest are important.  And none of these things are bad, but they have no lasting meaning. They don’t provide purpose. I don’t want to be the Volvo guy. If a camera crew were to follow me around and document my days, they would keep asking, “When do we get to the part where you actually DO something? You already fixed your hair and curled your eyelashes. Your clothes are fine. You don’t need another purse. Your house looks cute. We’ve had all the coffee we can hold. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO DO SOMETHING? And put that damn book down. LET’S GO.”

You get the point.

“Once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

This is what I’m going to do now:

“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you’re going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. It’s like that with writing books, and it’s like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”

I’m going to complete Storyline, which is a module that helps people map out their lives so that their daily schedule supports their life theme and priorities. In short, it helps people live a better story– the whole point of this gig. (Yes. It’s another Donald Miller thing. I really like the way this guy does life.)

I’m going to try to live more wholeheartedly and mindfully so that more of my time is being spent on things that matter. I’m going to set some specific goals for 2015– harder things that will keep adding more direction to my life and support the theme of my story. And whenever possible, I’m going to enlist my kids in it all, so that their own lives become intentionally written chapters– building blocks for epic life stories.

If we were to read about your life on the inside of a book jacket, what would it say? What’s your story about? If you’re not sure, then odds are, no one else knows either…








Catching Fire in the Trenches

10669127_10205174436388441_2938143554706449772_oIn 2011, in the midst of great heartache and sleepless nights, I published what is still, to this day, my most widely read blog post ever, An Open Letter to my Daughter’s Bullies, Including But Not Limited to The Mean Girls. It was a tough time in our lives. My daughter Casey was 14. And 14 was not a good year. In fact, 13 had not been a good year. 15 wasn’t great either. Middle school was not kind to her. And despite our best efforts as parents, things were not getting better. The bullying at school had reached an all-time high, and Casey’s self-esteem and head space about life in general had reached an all- time low.

There are far too many details to include in this post that would betray way too much of our family’s privacy– of Casey’s– but suffice it to say, from the time she was a baby, this sweet baby girl was different. Special. Intuitive. Kind. Tender. Brilliant. Sad. And the world is not kind to people who are different. And shame on us. Shame on us for thinking that everyone needs to look and act and think exactly like we do. What a gray and lifeless place this world would be. Most of the beauty and brilliance in this world comes from people who are different. Thank God. Thank God they are different. They have gifts the rest of us don’t have and most of us are far too blind and narrow-minded to see it. Myself included.

Casey is a gifted writer. And today, her very first article has been published in the Buffalo News. The road here– to this smiling, successful, confident young woman, has been paved with blood, sweat and tears. Ten million appointments, CSE Meetings (Parents who know what that means…you get it…) true grit, heartache, and struggle. But it’s also been marked by love. By great bravery. By persistence. By mini triumphs along the way that felt like gigantic victories. And the point of this whole thing is not to laud Casey, per se. And it’s not to tell her bullies and haters to SUCK ON THIS. (Although maybe just a tiny bit)

It’s really this: To tell other strugglers out there in the trenches– parents and kids alike: Keep going. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Don’t give up or give in. Take whatever spark you see and fix your eyes on it. Get down on your hands and knees and blow on it. Fan the tiniest flame, no matter how dim. Because if you will. If you will keep adding tinder and kindling and sticks and branches and logs…one day it will catch. And you’ll have the most spectacular bonfire your eyes have ever seen.

Casey girl, you’re on fire, my love. Don’t stop now.

Today was supposed to be my first installment of It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading. However, I have happily been upstaged by my daughter HAVING AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE NEWSPAPER. Mama can wait ’til next week.

Bedtime, Wet Towels, and 9/11 single night, I know it’s coming. Jammies are on. Teeth are brushed and flossed. Sister nonsense and shenanigans have fizzled out… It’s bedtime. And as the littlest one is climbing the ladder up to her loft bed, she’s already asking, in that uncertain and pleading tone, “Are you coming up?”

Big sigh. Am I coming up? I should. I definitely should. I know I should. But it’s 9:07. Already seven minutes past bedtime. And I’m just so freakin’ tired. But she asks again. And I can’t say no. Some nights I do. But most nights I don’t. Because time. Because childhood. Because I want to smush her with love. Because the ticking clock of life. Because guilt. Because. Because. Because.

Gah. It’s a lot. Isn’t it? This constant pressure to make every moment count. To be present. To be our best selves. To not miss a moment. To cherish every moment. To not disappoint our kids and ourselves and all of the people who only WISH they were tucking in children…Etc. Etc. Etc. Do you hear what I’m saying? It. Is. A. Lot.

After my first husband died, I went through this phase of loss where you think of all the things you’d do differently. If only you could go back. If only you had another chance. I used to think to myself, if I could only go back, I’d never bitch about wet towels on the floor again. He used to leave them everywhere and it drove me nuts. And in the disillusioned hindsight and rose colored glasses of grief, I actually thought if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t complain about wet towels. But as the years went by and my grief had dulled to a lower level of heartache, I revisited those thoughts. And now I disagree. I think I would. I’m afraid to say I think I would still probably bitch about wet towels.

Because here’s the thing: We’re still human. We can’t help it. We try. We do our best. But it seems we still cannot escape the dailyness of life that creates a rut that pretty much keeps us right where we’re at. We still get tired. We still get aggravated. We still feel stressed or depressed or disinterested. We are still selfish and self-centered and we forget. We just forget. Because we’re human. And honestly, in some ways, I think it’s okay.

It’s not entirely realistic or even enjoyable to live every present moment under the auspice of the Lifetime Ticking Clock.

A few weeks ago, I was driving the same littlest one to school, and as we were happily singing along to the radio, (because you know you have to be making good memories every second of the day, right? Kidding. Kidding) the jerk driver behind me didn’t care for my driving and pulled way up close and shouted, “Asshole!” And listen– my driving wouldn’t win any prizes— seriously. And I admit that. But I think screaming A-hole at me was a bit extreme. (And because I’m me, my feelings always get a little hurt by rude drivers. C’mon. I’m a lot of things. But not THAT.) And on top of it all, DIDN’T YOU SEE THE LITTLE GIRL SITTING HERE???

And as crazy as this sounds (and I know it sounds crazy), what I really wanted to yell back was, “Don’t you remember 9/11?!!! Did you forget?? That we’re all neighbors and Americans and supposed to be good to each other???”

Jerk probably took his flag down already, too.

But of course he did. Of course he forgot. Because he’s human. And because for whatever reason, we just can’t sustain that level of awareness long enough. Oh sure, some of us can, for some things. But not most of us. And not for everything. And so it seems we somehow always just ease back into being ourselves. Doing the best we know how and hoping it’s enough. Making tiny strides out of the ruts when we can. When we remember. Let it be enough, I think to myself. Please, let it be enough.

Where There is Love, There is Life

06381cfd7315dff093c62bdf083ea2a3I am learning, learning, learning about love. Everyday. All the time. Not just romantic love, because, HELLOOO– Terrifying. But real love. All kinds of love. What it is. What it’s not. What feels like love. What decidedly does NOT feel like love. I even have a Pinterest board called, “Love or Something Like It” that I’ve been working on for a while now. 389 pins. But who’s counting? I know the name seems a little vague, but here’s the thing– We think OF COURSE we know what love is. But do we really? I don’t always know that I do. But I do know I want to get better at it. All of it. (So it’s almost like Pinterest is EDUCATIONAL. Smiling. I am totally smiling at this thought.)

And so recently, while I was ruminating about love, I unintentionally had identical conversations with two different people who land on two totally different paradigms of what is a very messy issue~

Conversation #1:

A friend and I are chatting casually about God, church, relationships and such. She talks about being raised in a deeply religious home, with extremely zealous parents, particularly her father. She refers to him as the type of guy who would stand on street corners downtown, handing out Christian literature and telling people Jesus loves them. (I know. Cringe worthy) But she went on to say that her dad is THE kindest person she knows. Super loving, super friendly. And then somehow, segues into telling me that her brother is gay.

“Ohhhh man. In such a religious family, how the heck did that go over? How did your parents handle that?” I asked in total wonder. (Sadly preparing for the worst.)

“They were actually okay about it. I mean, it was hard, but it’s their son. They love him and support him. What could they do about it? We’re all close. It’s fine. I mean, we love him.”

Conversation #2:

Another close friend and I are chatting. She is lamenting that she has not heard from her son, who also happens to be gay. She can’t understand why he doesn’t come to visit. Rarely calls. Doesn’t seem to make time for her. She misses him. She has, however, made it repeatedly clear that she does not accept that he is gay. Does not approve of his lifestyle. Cannot condone it. Refuses to try to understand. To try and…adjust. And no, he is not welcome to bring his partner when he visits. She will not have “that” in her home. ‘He needs to respect her beliefs and her wishes.’  And so there she sits. Alone. And sad. But by God, sticking to her principles.  And while I try to empathize with the seeming complexity of the issue, I’m so struck by the fact that she could make different choices that would lead to better outcomes– and yet how she would rather draw a hard-line, regardless of the cost and loss it has led to.

I get that this can be complicated. And messy. And gray. And I also get that very many of you will absolutely land squarely on one side or the other, with no doubt in your mind and actually tell me that it’s clearly black and white for you. I can’t answer tough theological questions about it. I can’t even say anything all that profound about it.  And it’s totally within the realm of the way I think to actually hold a few opposing thoughts about the whole thing. But I can tell you this: I know which one feels like love. And which one doesn’t.

Conversation #1 felt like love to me. It felt like Jesus-love to me, because I’m quite sure it was sacrificial love; As though this mom and dad had a love so big, and so wide, and so deep, they were able to lay down their “rights” as parents, their need for religion to reign, so that love could reign instead. It saved their family, but it also may have saved their son. I walked away feeling grateful. Grateful for generous love. Grateful for love that accepts, forgives, overlooks, embraces. For love that leads to life.

Conversation #2 was hard. It was frustrating. Stiff. Stubborn. It was sad. I couldn’t help but think about the years that are being wasted while they both miss out on so much because of my friend’s daily conscious choice to not love her son unconditionally. It has felt hopeless to try to expand her thinking in any way~

I get that you have your beliefs. I get that it makes you uncomfortable. But what I don’t get is your inability to set all of that aside for the sake of love. For the sake of your son. For the sake of wholeness in your family. And really, for your own sake. I know you– and I want to believe that you possess bigger love than that in the deepest places of your heart. After all, you love ME– and damn if I couldn’t give you a thousand reasons why I’m not entirely worthy of love either.

The lack of love here has led to death– the death of relationships, of family, of connection. And it’s being grieved daily. By both parties.

I think what makes me most sad is that my friend thinks she’s loving Jesus in her convictions. And so that’s why I try so very hard not to judge her. She.Thinks.She’s Loving.Jesus. By refusing to accept her son and his lifestyle. And it reminds me of all the times I thought I was loving Jesus by judging and correcting and refusing to accept. And I grieve that now. That misperception of love. That disullisionment.

I certainly could never claim to know exactly what Jesus is thinking. But everywhere I look in the Bible, love comes first. Always. Love above everything else. Because love leads to life. And if we’re still ever asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”, I can’t help but think it seems pretty clear. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” And when it comes to love, all I know is, I want to do better.

If this is an issue you wrestle with and you’d like to read more, please read about one couple’s heartrending journey with their son over at Rage Against the Minivan. 

Fail. Regroup. Repeat.

images-13“Your child will follow your example. Not your advice.”

Every time I see this quote my knee jerk reaction is always the same: A moment of panic followed by screen shots of my life flashing before my eyes. And it’s never the highlight reel. It’s always the cutting floor. The scenes I wish I could delete and pretend never happened. I used to read it and think about how far I had to go. How much better I needed to be. That I wanted to be a perfect parent for them.  But here’s what I want now: To be real. To be fully human; Which means flawed and messy and trying my hardest– but not perfect. Perfect isn’t real. Or true. Perfect is exhausting. A cruel task master. Perfect does not help my kids or anyone else in my life. Perfect makes my kids feel alone. Unworthy. Unacceptable. Unloved. Rejected. Abnormal.  Perfect does nothing to help them grow and develop and come into their own. To love and enjoy life and other people. An expectation of perfect teaches my kids to perform instead of participate in life. It creates a fear of failure. Of even trying. A fear of never being good enough. The expectation of perfection for any of us creates an atmosphere of shame where we need to hide our true, imperfect selves. Barf.

If I’m living way up in my ivory tower, polishing away so that my kids have an “ultimate example” to follow, then what I am NOT is a safe harbor for them; For their mistakes, their struggles, their confessions, their true selves. Instead, I’m a judge. I’m a critic. I’m a master of performance and image and they become my slaves. And sometimes it means I’m silently holding them to a standard I have yet to meet. They need to see some cracks in my facade. They need to see me mad, watch me cry, hear me swear, hear me pray. Struggle with life in all it’s pain and glory. All in the same day. And listen- please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about inappropriately allowing my kids to see parts of my life that are not meant for their young hearts and minds. But I AM talking about allowing them to know parts of me and my story that ARE appropriate and relevant to them: The 22 and 16 year-old NEED to hear me tell them that their bodies will want to have sex long before their hearts and minds are ready. They need to know there are times I’ve had too much to drink and how that went down. They need to know if I’ve ever used drugs and how I feel about it now. They need to hear about my young and foolish love stories. It’s how they come to know the real me– and it’s during these honest, awkward, sometimes embarrassing conversations that I come to know the real them. (Although the 11 year-old was once heard saying, “If you girl-chat me right now I will jump out of this moving car.” Um. Ok. So I tread a little lighter with her…)

Before our kids are barely a few months old, somehow parents latch onto this anxious notion of hoping and praying that our kids “turn out” right.  And suddenly the drive for perfect parenting, that will in turn produce perfect kids, is born. But what does that even mean? For a kid to “turn out” right? That he doesn’t go to jail? That he goes to a great college? Perfect SAT scores? If he works at McDonald’s, did he still “turn out”? I’ve got news for you: We are all, each one of us, authors of our own story. There is no “turning out”. . .I have my story, you have your story, and our kids will each have their own story. Some chapters will be better than others. There will be nail biters and page turners. Chapters we want to re-live, chapters we wish we could burn. Chapters we only dream of that never quite materialize. But our stories are life long, epic tales. If I were to judge mine right this minute, I quite possibly have not…turned out.

Ruining your life is actually kind of hard to do. This thing called life is pretty resilient. And so let this now be my example: Fail. Regroup. Repeat. Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. So say no to the bad things and yes to the good things– and when you get the two confused, double back and fix it. Choose all over again. Make a thousand mistakes and own every single one of them. Say you’re sorry. Be brave. Be kind. Live hard. Love God. Love the people around you. THAT is life abundant. THAT is living. And the bottom line is this: YOU ARE OKAY. Today. Just as you are. You are okay. You are on a life- long adventure and so am I. It’s okay to not care about sports. You don’t have to be good at everything. But it’s okay if you are, too.  It’s okay to like things that no one else likes. It’s okay if sometimes you’re cranky. Or cry for no reason. To wrestle with jealousy. And temptation. Or if you sometimes have weird thoughts you don’t really understand. It’s okay to be a Yankees fan. (Just kidding. No it’s not. Please be anything but a Yankees fan.) Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I hope that’s my example.

“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” F. Scott Fitzgerald