Sifting Shifting Sands

I look at the calendar and question whether I must be in a state of deep denial: Teen has only a handful of school days left, then a few days of finals, before he graduates high school. Fifteen days, including weekends, before this long leg of the journey comes to an end.

Oy, I just choked back tears. Not for the first time, certainly not the last.

Obviously I knew this end was coming. In a vague sense, since January I’ve been counting the months, the weeks, now days. I’ve been spending more time at home—more work-at-home afternoons, more nights in on weekends—intending to be present for those unpredictable times when he suddenly overflows with information. I never know what will turn the spigot, and whether it will trickle or gush, but I’m ready to catch the flow.

Sometimes the flow smells more like sewage than good, clean water. Undoubtedly, Teen could tell you more about the biology behind the term for this, called soiling the nest. Fledgling birds apparently make a mess of the nest so their birdy mamas will kick them out. The nasty stench makes it easier to say goodbye.

By refusing to get out of bed, or go to school, or contribute in any meaningful way to a positive home environment; by making me want to scream in place of fruitless nagging, and clench my already-aching jaw, go for a power walk, and come home to a glass of wine consumed in the privacy of my bedroom, we both become ready for a separation. The ridiculous part: by being his worst at home I’m supposed to believe he’s ready to show his best to the world?

I’ve reminded myself: he’s afraid. Everything he’s known and counted on throughout his lifetime is changing, and change is never easy. Sure, the adventures ahead are so exciting. He’s going to his #1 college choice to study his life’s consuming passion and play his sport. A few weeks ago he got a text from an Olympian who recently graduated from the school, congratulating him on his choice and looking forward to working out together. So cool!

Still, he feels vulnerable, unsteady as the sands shift beneath his feet. And I am a safe arm to grab hold of, to catch all the junk he doesn’t know how to process. He can actively push away because he knows we will always be his soft landing spot. Push and pull, shove and yank. Some days it feels like a fistfight; others, a cling-for-your-life embrace. Hard, and normal.

Thankfully, some days I see the man he is becoming. Some days my presence at home has been rewarded with pleas for advice, details of his adventures, arguments on real-life issues he’s working out in his head and sounding out in private. Just yesterday, he invited me to watch one of his favorite movie scenes with him. We laughed side-by-side on the couch, a tender moment (for me) until the scene ended and he said, “That’s it. You can go now.”

We have lived on the California coast his whole life. When he was little, we sat facing each other in the sand, kitchen items between us—colanders, slotted spoons, Tupperware—sifting sand, tossing out the rocks, turning the shells over in our hands, collecting water and building sand castles. Always ready, I watched as he toddled away from me, playing catch-me-if-you-can with lapping waves.

Now he strides into his future, leaving me behind on the beach sifting memories and moments; tossing misshapen ones, treasuring the intricate beauty of others. Long ago as the sand slipped between my fingers I daydreamed of who he would be, how his exuberance would develop into passion for something larger than himself. Now I have space to daydream of other shorelines—and mountain trails and jungle paths—where we will walk together, creating new memories, as he explores life.

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Art Therapy

Dr. Seuss writes, “Oh, the places you will go!” which I echo, “Oh, the places our children will lead us…” Before Teen was born, I could never have imagined that he would lead me hunting for and racing snails, and later, in search of snakes in the jungles of Costa Rica. LaRae Seifert was Frank-ly surprised that she ended up in art class alongside her creative daughter, and we’re both grateful for the life adventures on which these kids have taken us and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

re:create recess #7: LaRae Seifert

You know those people who can take empty plastic bottles and transform them eighteen different ways into useable, clever gadgets? Or, alternatively, they can take miscellaneous household objects, some fruit, and a glue gun, and in under ten minutes create a beautiful centerpiece … or wreath for the door … or costume for the youngest child’s school production. You know someone like this. Maybe you are someone like this.

I am not this person. I do not even live in the same space as this person.

I am the person who can solve a logic puzzle in my head, or calculate everyone’s cost and tip when splitting a check before any of my friends can dig out a phone and pull up a calculator. Taking one of those silly Facebook quizzes that determine if one is left or right brained, I scored 80% left-brained, and my response was to think, “Only 80%?”

I have never thought of myself as creative. I am a problem solver. I do some things that appear creative, like playing the piano, and knitting and embroidering, and sewing. These things for me, however, do not depend on creativity as much as the precision and order that flow naturally from my mathematical nature.

Imagine my surprise then, and ultimately my appreciation for God’s sense of humor, when I gave birth to a daughter who is all creativity. She is constantly expressing her ideas through art and crafting. I never dreamed I would purchase so much paper, and yarn, and glue, and paint, and beads, and feathers, and wood, and … You get the idea. Eventually, my husband and I realized this was no passing fancy, but rather the core of her being, and we prayerfully sought out an art mentor for her.

We were lead to a local woman who is a talented watercolorist. When I approached her and asked if she would be willing to teach my daughter, she said, “Absolutely.” When we arrived at her house for the first lesson, the table was set for two students, not one. She said to me, “I thought you might like to join us.”

Internally, I rolled my eyes. I mean, really. I’m the least artistic person on the planet. This was going to be pure torture, but in wanting to be a good mom, I sat down, and … it wasn’t what I expected. What happened over the next several months surprised me. I found a part of myself I didn’t know existed. A year-and-a-half into this journey, I can see that digging deep and learning to create has changed me.

I can remember my surprise when we sketched an elephant from a photograph, and my result actually looked like an elephant. My daughter was so proud of me she named him Frank. I felt pleasure in mixing colors, and watching pictures take form as I painted. As I exercised my creative muscle, the realization dawned that I create every day of my life, whether it is memories, or family time, or meals, or one-on-one moments with my children or husband; every moment of the day is a moment of creation. It brings to mind that, “In the beginning, God created…” and as His image-bearers, we too are born to create.

I am not an amazing artist, nor will I ever be; but my experience with art has been a pleasant one. Most pleasing of all has been watching God take an analytical mom out of her comfort zone, and tap into her previously unknown creative well by placing her at the art table next to her child.

 

My name is LaRae, and I am a native of Colorado. I have been married 23 years to my partner in crime, and I have two beautiful daughters ages 12 and 19. Although I have a Juris Doctorate, I long ago set aside my law practice to focus on my hearth and home. I have homeschooled for 11 years, and I’m pretty sure I’ve learned as much as my children. As I say to them – the world is your classroom, and life is your teacher. As long as you’re living, you’re learning.

 

24 Years and Counting

Today we celebrate 24 years of marriage.

We met at 17, started dating at 20, got engaged at 22, and married at 23.

We have now been married more than half our lives.

In that time, we have lived in seven homes in three counties in one state. We have worked at nine jobs, including four churches, three of which we both served professionally. We have raised two incredible sons.

I can’t begin to quantify how many sermons he’s preached or articles I’ve written. How many camps, retreats, or mission trips we’ve organized. How many Bible lessons we’ve taught, or cups of coffee we’ve shared with people we love. Nor how many weddings he’s officiated.

For obvious reasons, the weddings are on my mind today. Some would say we got lucky, that marrying so young could have gone badly. We know some for whom that was the case. Thankfully, not us, and thankfully, we’ve learned a few things about marriage in this half of life.

JOY is contagious.
Jesus, Others, You. It may be cliché, but it is also the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself. From before our beginning as a couple, we committed to love God first and foremost. We recognized our love for one another as His gift, to nurture with an outpouring of His love for us as individuals and as a couple. We put church and activities that would help us grow in love with God and each other first on our calendar, careful not to let other activities compete (at least not regularly) for space in our lives that belonged to God.

Remember why you fell in love.
Romance is sappy, staring-deeply-into-eyes fun. But romance ebbs and flows. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and actively remember those qualities about your spouse that weakened your knees: his sense of humor or the way his hug wrapped you up and made you feel safe or the laughs you shared playing board games.

Invest time.
Regularly. Ideally, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Shared time is the investment you make often in order to have something to draw on when you need it most. Daily could be as little as a fifteen-minute check-in chat after work. Weekly might be a walk around the block, a date night, a Sunday lunch. Monthly or seasonally, depending on your life stage and/or budget, might be a splurge date or an overnight get-away.

Grow.
Everything that has life grows. Or it dies. So you might as well be clear up front: I’m not going to get in a rut. Each of you will grow, learn, and change, and your relationship will need to flex in order to accommodate your individual growth. It’s a good thing, and it will make you more interesting. Just be sure to grow in complimentary directions.

Experiences over stuff.
Make memories, not collections. We’re all drowning in stuff and spend way too many hours of our lives managing all the stuff: cleaning, dusting, moving it from one place to another, reorganizing, decluttering, (re)gifting. Instead, we need more shared time together, more laughter and play and memory-making that in the long run will require no more work than sharing stories with family and friends for generations.

Talk. A lot.
Be honest. No topic too sacred, nothing off-limits. Communication is the basic building block you stack over and over and over in order to build a shared life. You have to talk in order to avoid and resolve conflict, which will do its best to topple all the hard-placed blocks. Learn to speak graciously, to honor each other with your words by building each other up, lavishing encouragement, being his/her #1 fan. Keep criticism to a minimum.

Play.
Marriage can be a lot of work if you don’t balance it with some just-because fun. What did you do on dates pre-marriage? Do more of that. See movies. Eat meals out, or cook meals in. Go to museums, take classes, and develop new hobbies. Enjoy the big beautiful world on a hike. Take a trip—even a day trip—to somewhere new, or visit your old stomping grounds. Enjoy each other’s company.

Play for the same team.
Think of your marriage as a team: What does winning look like? What position(s) do you play? How can you work together rather than against each other? Stop trying to keep individual score (I took the trash out last week… Yah, but I emptied the dishwasher this morning) and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.

Forgive.
Most of us misunderstand forgiveness. We think it means claiming that whatever the offense, it didn’t matter. To the contrary, forgiveness means the offense absolutely mattered, but I will choose to live with the consequences so we can both move on. Forgiveness involves addressing the conflict honestly and then agreeing to new boundaries to prevent further hurt, including agreeing not to bring it up again. It is hard, necessary work for any substantial relationship.

Keep it simple.
Don’t put off date night until you have the sitter and the reservation at the fancy-schmancy A-list restaurant. Put the kids to bed early, order pizza, and put in a DVD if you have to. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, your spouse, your kids, your kids’ schools or teachers or coaches, your neighbors… Don’t make life harder than it will be already. Keep your priorities straight, and keep it simple.

Your spouse won’t meet all your needs.
No one person will satisfy all your needs. Adulting requires that you meet more than a few of your own needs, and sometimes that involves sucking it up when you feel dissatisfied. Also, cultivate friends you can talk to and play with when your spouse isn’t available. Just remember: they don’t come first in your heart’s priorities.

Serve one another in love.
Every time Guy officiates at a wedding I hear him say: “Marriage is not 50-50. Marriage is 100-100. Marriage is both partners all in for the sake of the relationship. I give everything I am, and she gives everything she is, and together we make one whole.”

I admit, service is not my strong suit. Sometimes I notice myself feeling more than a little annoyed at all the mundane tasks I do that seem to go unnoticed. At those times I remind myself that our marriage is built on mutual service. Some days it takes a lot of service on my part; other days, he will pick up all the slack. It’s a give-and-take, both of us intending to give more than we take.

Today we have followed our own advice. After shuffling the kids out the door and off to school, we began our day in a yoga class together, a new-to-us practice that grounds us in health and wellness and community with our friends and neighbors. We each did our individual work, then ran errands together for the sake of our family. We both participated in chores and dinner prep. The kids have homework, so we made a simple dinner: a big Greek salad, whole wheat pita bread and hummus, corn on the cob, with cherries for dessert. We opened a nicer-than-usual bottle of wine—a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc—from a winery we have visited for special occasions with loved ones. We sip from glasses that belonged to Guy’s grandparents, engraved with the initial and name I adopted 24 years ago today.

Here’s to 24 years, and many, many more!

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Thankful Thursday – Spring Break Through

A friend emailed: “Are you ok? Your ‘miracles’ are sounding like you need a lot of hugs.”

Hmmm… Good feedback, since I hadn’t intended to sound like a downer. I am okay, generally. This has been a month of long work hours unbalanced by enough fun or activity as I’ve recuperated this ankle sprain. Every day has presented new adventures in parenting, especially as Teen moves through his last few weeks of high school. “Unbalanced” might be just the right word–my head, heart, and body have been out of sync, a mishmash of misplaced forms, overlooked details, new questions, full emotions, and injury.

But “unbalanced” is temporary. My ankle feels significantly better after last week’s visit to the chiropractor. I’m not running yet, but last night I did yoga without pain–hooray! Work projects are winding down and the school year is winding down. Summer is within sight.

Spring has arrived, and my roses have exploded.

I’m not much of a gardener but I do enjoy time spent dead-heading roses, inhaling the sweet fragrance of these blooms. Our front entrance has never smelled more delightful, and I get such a kick out of my white roses flaunting their rebellious pink streaks.

Since January I’ve been carting around my gratitude journal, attempting to record at least three unique points of gratitude each day in addition to Bible verses, quotes, etc. Truthfully, I’m not very good at it–I’ve skipped too many days–but I know gratitude is a helpful discipline so I keep plugging along.

I tucked here and there between the pages little cards, some with quotes to encounter and reflect on throughout the year, others with a word/phrase for the month. They cause me to pause, to say thanks, to ponder the holy ground on which I stand.

The word for May is “Break…” to which I added, “Through,” and–like “unbalanced”–that, too, feels right: at the end of the school year, May has the tendency to knock me off my feet; this year, I am choosing to break through.

So what am I grateful for today? 

A friend who asks if I’m really okay.
Healing.
Movement.
Roses.
Another friend who visited from out-of-town and slotted time for me on her full itinerary.
Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.
A neighbor who gave away her zucchini plant “volunteers”–and three new plants for our veggie garden.
New library books.
Easy something-out-of-nothing still-healthy meals from the pantry (I really do need to go grocery shopping…)
Significant life-processing conversations with Teen.
Tween’s new brace face, and the miracles of orthodontia.
Squirrels who make me laugh as they zoom along tree branches, and the quail who visit our bird feeder.

How about you? What are you grateful for, and how are you breaking through?

And by the way, I’ll take those hugs anytime!

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Thankful Thursday – Love Thyself (Body, Too)

Arguably the only good thing about injury and illness is their capacity to increase one’s gratitude for health and wellness.

Almost four weeks ago I went for a run (over a year later, that I run–ever!–still gives rise to my surprised giggles). A few miles later, having run and walked in turn, feeling better than ever and enjoying each step, I limped toward home.

I didn’t fall. I don’t remember a bad step or an “OUCH!” moment, just a gradual then growing discomfort above my right ankle.

It didn’t hurt as bad, nor swell as much, as last summer’s sprained ankle. I thought I’d heal quickly. Since gentle walking helped last time, I’ve tried to carefully and regularly walk around the block.

I have to think about how I move and work hard not to limp; I wouldn’t dare run yet. My whole body has felt out of whack as it compensates. To boot, the severe drop-off in physical exertion has caused indigestion and nasty heartburn; I get hungry but I can’t eat much. My shoulders have inched up to my ears and I’ve stopped sleeping deeply. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Bleh!

Mind-body connection, of course, and I’ve been feeling (literally) lame and a wee bit depressed, knowing that I’m missing out on fun fitness and time with friends. The irony of finally discovering joy in movement and developing injuries from said movement has made me flat-out mad at my stupid body.

That’s not helpful, I know. Accepting limitations and working through them, that’s the way.

Today a friend met me for a chair yoga class. She’d never done yoga and felt nervous. So did I my first time. But if I can do chair yoga–a gentle introduction to stretching and yoga poses–while out of shape and in an ankle brace, anyone can do it.

As I had hoped, she loved it.

At the beginning of class, we set an intention. Mine was simple: Love. I was at yoga to love my friend into a safe and loving practice. And I was there to love this body I haven’t even liked much of late (historically: ever).

We stretched and breathed deeply. I felt my body realigning and muscles releasing their tension.

Later, I visited the chiropractor where, for the first time, he didn’t work on my shoulders. Instead he focused his healing ministrations on my ankle. Because my shoulders have been such a chronic pain, I had No Idea he could offer such quick relief to my stupid injury. I almost felt as though I could run out of the office.

I know it will still be a while before my ankle has healed. So meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop disparaging this lug of flesh that is me and instead be grateful. Life is good. Health is better, and I’ll get there.

I found this quote today while cleaning my desk. It doesn’t, and yet does, apply directly:

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to love them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
–Rainer Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

I have to be patient with my body while it heals, and patient with my heart as it struggles with the body’s less-than-wholeness. For now, I choose to live everything: injury and frustration and healing. Who knows what other good gifts life has in store through this process?

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Creative Play

Oh, friends, it has been awhile and we are long overdue for recess… Do you remember watching the clock during your own elementary school days, waiting for playtime? Some days the minute hand seemed to be ticking backwards and I couldn’t help but fidget in my seat. Life has felt a little like that recently, so I’m grateful for my friend Sara urging us back out to play, to enjoy the time to stretch and run free and just go for it. Our simple creative efforts come from the heart, after all. Let’s spread some love and joy!

re:create recess #6: Sara Pantazes

I never thought of myself as a creative person. I was the kid who always colored within the lines rather than one who relished the completely empty pages of a sketchbook. As an adult, I continue to struggle to be creative when my kids want to “play” (a problem my children never seem to have!). But when I read the prompt for this blog series, I realized there are two activities I periodically make time for which challenge me to be creative, and that these activities have become my grown-up play times.

The first creative activity I got into as an adult was scrapbooking. I fell into this hobby somewhat begrudgingly: it is a project that is never completed and is super hard to do with young kids around. But it is those young ones who make this creative activity so worthwhile, because my sons love looking at our family scrapbooks.

My creative process involves ordering tons of pictures, laying them out along with the cards or ticket stubs or whatever else I saved that go along with the pictures’ events, and deciding how much can fit on each 12X12 page. Then I pick out the background paper and embellishments and decide what words to write on the page.

The scrapbooks have become the stories of our family, which my kids “read” and enjoy. They “remember” things their brains were not developed enough to have formed memories of, but they have looked at the pictures and heard the stories retold often enough that they know their family history. My creative play has resulted in tangible objects that help my children know themselves, those who love them, and the seasons of their lives.

The second creative activity I discovered in more recent years is making cards. I freely admit that I struggle with how homemade my cards look and that they lack the eloquent sentiments of Hallmark cards. Yet I enjoy the process of creating them enough to continue doing so. I enjoy looking through Pinterest for ideas and then interpreting those designs to make them work within the boundaries of my own supplies.

I tend to create simple designs but I am okay with that because simple is an expression of me. I hope that the family and friends who receive my cards see them as the expression of love that I intend them to be. I also appreciate all the blank space inside the cards. It challenges me to write words that matter to the recipient and gives my children space to make their own 6- and 4-year-old marks on whatever occasion we are recognizing.

Scrapbooking and card making play a back seat to nearly everything else in my life; I don’t get to “play” with them often. When I do have time, I still find that being artistic and creative does not come easily to me. Yet I have learned to appreciate the challenge these creative play activities present and how it refreshes my brain to engage in something so different from my norm, something so creative. The blank pages still unnerve me, but I no longer avoid them. Bring on the card stock, stamps and inkpads, fancy scissors and washi tape—I have some playing to do!

Sara is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. When she is not having all kinds of mom fun, Sara is working to earn a Master of Arts in Christian Education.

 

Receive Correction

When I reflect on my lifetime in God’s house, I have to acknowledge God’s grace that I’m still here. Especially in my own tween/teen years, well-intended church-going do-gooders decided it was their Christian duty to beat me over the head with (often misinterpreted) Scripture. Though they aimed to “speak truth in love” (another Scripture taken out of context), they didn’t love but judged. For whatever reason they plucked from the air that week, they insisted I didn’t measure up and had to conform. They were wise (in their own eyes) and I had reason to “fear the Lord,” they said.

Fear them, is more accurate.

Of course there are appropriate occasions for discipline. Parent to child. Spouse to spouse. Teacher to child. Mentor to mentee. Dear friends, one to another. In large part, the right to speak discipline to another is an earned privilege.

The problem comes when we set ourselves to tweeze the splinter from another’s eye—without permission, usually—when we haven’t first spent sufficient time humbly on our knees, letting God surgically remove the log from our eyes. Rather than offering relief, in blindness we risk inflicting more blindness.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. We in the Church bear witness to the True Word of God Incarnate through the Truth in God’s written Word. But rather than pointing to Truth’s freedom and the sacrificial love of our Savior, we too casually wield our interpretation of truth as a weapon. We all need way more grace.

Notice I lump myself in, “we” and not merely “they.” Hurt people hurt people. I confess I’ve done it, too: been too free with judgmental words. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Sin clouds every human being and every organization, the Church necessarily included. We pray for better among God’s people but—maybe because we claim to have access to the Truth?—the Church is regularly a repeat offender. Sadly, I completely understand why so many, including people I love dearly, want nothing to do with it.

Yet, God calls us to community, to corporate worship, to life together, and so I remain committed to His beloved, broken institution. And though I strive to remain open and soft-hearted, I hold my scarred heart gingerly when it comes to receiving correction. Of course I want to grow in wisdom. I’m just careful about who claims to be offering wisdom.

God, though… He’s not safe but He is good, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. His Word, regularly studied and prayed, in truth offers Truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God, speaking to our hearts through the inspired Word of God, tells us what we need to know (teaching), stop (rebuking), change (correcting), and do (training in righteousness) so that we’re ready for all the good things God has planned for us.

His correction gives life. He keeps me on course, directing me on right paths. He created me and knows the intricate details He built into my wiring, and so only He truly knows how to steer me in the right direction.

You be you, says the world, but God only knows how I can be my best me. God’s love and continual restoration of this life He gave me makes spending time with Him in His life-giving Word so worth the discipline of invested time.

Deep & Wise: Uncommon Sense from the Proverbs
Week 2 – Receive Correction

Connect
Reflect on an important lesson you’ve learned recently.

Study
Read aloud Proverbs 12:1.
How would you explain the connection between discipline, knowledge, and correction?Read aloud Proverbs 3:5-8, 11-12.
According to these verses, what does it look like to trust the Lord? How is that related to correction?
Why should someone trust the Lord?
Read aloud Proverbs 15:31-33.
How does correction give life?
What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?

Live
Generally, do you tend to despise or heed correction? What makes the difference in your response?
How does the Lord offer His discipline/correction? How can you receive it?
What role does trust play in receiving correction?
How can receiving the Lord’s correction increase your trust in Him?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to receiving the Lord’s correction.

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