ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Learning to Let Him Go

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Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.

Meatless Monday – Apple Pie Oatmeal

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Stressed Out, 21 Pilots

I’m no singer but, like many mamas, I sang my babies to sleep. I even made up my own lullaby for Baby Teen which became Baby Tween’s lullaby as well. It was part of our ritual, a favorite few moments at the end of each day.

I don’t sing to them anymore. And there are absolutely times when any one of us might agree to take a spin on Hermione Granger’s time turner, back to those good old low-stress days.

An acquaintance inquired after Teen the other day. She said, “Every time I see him he seems so stressed out.”

He’s a high school senior attending a top 1% school in an extremely competitive, achievement-oriented community. So, yes, he is stressed out. And, bummer.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Back to School week did not go swimmingly. No, swimmingly is for summertime: fun in the sun, no set schedules, no morning hustle-bustle, and most importantly, No Homework, just learning and reading for fun. And far fewer arguments.

School Day 1 ended with a parent-child shouting match. Topic: stress and stress avoidance.

School Day 2 included Tween promising that he didn’t need his trumpet until next week. Later, a text that read: “I need my trumpet RIGHT NOW!”

School Day 3 we forgot high school late start day, so Teen arrived to school an hour early. You’d think by senior year we’d all be dialed in to the school schedule.

You know what helps?

Hanging on to gratitude, a regular priority with renewed back-to-school emphasis.

I am grateful for…

Smart, strong, healthy, energetic boys who will be and do well in this world despite adolescent bumps.

Good schools, albeit imperfect.

A fantastic Day 2 conversation with Teen to make up for the previous day’s shouting match. We shared a sweet half-hour talking through pros and cons of different decisions and how each might affect his days, senior year, and whatever comes next.

Tween’s Day 2 homework: a half-page explanation of “What Makes Me Special.” I think this should be a regular assignment for all humans. We are special, and we should gratefully appreciate the characteristics that make us so.

Consistent day-to-day routines: exercise after drop-off, bedtime reading with Tween. What a gift that he still enjoys reading aloud with Mama at 12 years old!

Also, a healthy, hearty breakfast made once and quickly warmed up to enjoy throughout the week. Sure makes the morning rush more delicious!

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

Apple Pie Oatmeal
Serves 4

Boil three cups water. Add 1 cup steel cut oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill) and 1 cored and diced apple. Return to boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice). Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon, Craisins, raisins, or fresh fruit, and a splash of non-dairy milk. Recipe can be easily doubled.

Thankful Thursday – Kickin’ the Door Shut & a Happy Dance!

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By 12:20pm tomorrow, both our boys will be done with this school year.

Hallelujah!

This has been a particularly rough year for a variety of reasons. Junior year for Teen, filled to the brim with cultural stress even when our immediate little family wasn’t topped to our own stress limit. Unfortunately for all of us, his school counselor didn’t take time to look up at the student sitting before her when she advised he take certain classes (he shouldn’t have taken) and absolutely wouldn’t allow others (completely in his wheelhouse). All year long we have been paying for the mistake of not standing up to a school administrator while there was time. What a painful lesson we have learned…

Sixth grade for Tween, which means we now have one year of middle school under our belts. You’d think “experienced parents” might have this down but different kids transition differently, which makes for a different experience all ’round. We used to say that Teen leaped through 6th grade like a series of belly flops–fun in the air, painful on impact, everyone gets splashed. Tween has been way less adventurous and more consistently bewildered by the new demands on his life. A’s for effort, though, as this kid has been diligent in his hard work, sometimes doing two to six hours of homework per night (yes, WAY too much, and darn that slow processing!)…and then forgetting to turn it all in, or losing it (in his backpack) for weeks. Sigh.

But tonight I am truly grateful. Grateful we are done, mostly. I have been ready to kick the door shut on this year for, oh honestly, months. At least weeks. And yet I am also grateful for the free and fantastic education in our competitive small town. Grateful for the collateral lessons of organization, communication, self-advocacy, assertiveness, creativity, persistence, and more.

I am grateful for my children, these beautiful, amazing, creative gifts from God, each their very own unique human being. And I am grateful that for the next ten weeks we will not argue about homework. I will not have to wake them earlier than their bodies want to rush them out the door. I will not have to hurry them off to bed to get enough rest for the big day, big test/project, the next day’s measurement of their (supposed) worth.

I am grateful for summer and its lazy days slower pace. I am grateful for the adventures that await us individually and as a family–trips to San Diego and Mexico, Oregon and Monterey/Carmel as a family; Boy Scout camp for both boys; high adventure risk-taking for the Eagle Scout-Teen.

I am grateful for summer’s organic learning. Books to read just for fun. Scout badges that will precipitate new experiences and open their minds to new discoveries. Time to hike and climb and explore…just because.

I am grateful for a season of rest. I am grateful for friends we enjoy all year long, friends who have done this year with us, and who will now stretch out into this rest with us. For field trips and day trips ahead. For bowling and roller coasters and movies and beach days and swimming. For glasses of wine and laughter. For concerts and picnics in the park. For worship with our church family.

I am grateful, and so I have been doing my own crazy happy dance all day. Psalm 149:3 says, “Praise his name with dancing…” God has held us close during this chaotic year. He has gotten us through, and He has provided rest just ahead. Want to happy dance this joy with me?

Project Parenting

C at sea

This morning I had a long-overdue cuppa tea with a friend. Of course we talked about our kids. My Teen is a few years ahead of hers, and so conversations in our home run a different course than she has to deal with quite yet – driving, drinking, dating, college, life goals and plans… My friend has a special gift for making me feel like a stellar mom, even though I suspect all moms (all parents) just do their best in each moment, none of us truly knowing exactly what to do or how to do it. And each kid is entirely different, complicating this whole Parenting thing.

The closer Teen gets to high school graduation, the more I am convinced that there is no One Path Fits All. I am also increasingly convinced that culturally we have done our kids a disservice, robbing them of the freedom and fun of childhood far too early. My kid isn’t me, and the world he occupies isn’t the one in which I grew up. I wish I had realized that years ago and encouraged him to take the most fun-for-him classes that would also get him through middle school and high school, competition-based “shoulds” be damned. I have another kid who might yet benefit from this enlightened perspective, but chances are high that his path will be so entirely different that lessons learned with Teen won’t fit. Sigh.

A few hours later I read a magazine article about people who engage in long-term projects: hiking the Appalachian Trail, for example, or completing a cross-stitched quilt that consumed “free time” on and off for close to 50 years. The quilter said, “In art, when you’re creating, you have to be open to the possibilities” (Sister Judith Ann Shea, quoted by Amy Shearn in Real Simple, Feb 2016). Shearn goes on to say:

Being, and staying, open to the possibilities. That, right there, is exactly the near mystical appeal of the long haul… [The similar attitudes of those who undertake long-term projects] remind me to enjoy the slowness of a worthy, complex endeavor, to surround myself with positive people, and to remember to laugh, even through the moments that aren’t fun, even when you look in front of you and see hundreds more miles to walk…

Which sounds a whole lot like parenting, one heckuva worthy long-term endeavor! You create a family (whatever that looks like, but at least involves parent and child), and then you stay open to possibilities. You commit your life to help another human being create their life. The complexity of parenting takes every ounce of parental creativity; once you think you’ve got anything figured out, your kid changes or circumstances change and you find yourself back at, well, not Square 1, but at least a few steps off.

Which is why parents need to surround themselves with positive people, safe friends who Get It, who will listen and not try to fix you or your kids because none of you truly require fixing. We all need friends who love us unconditionally, friends who won’t judge. Friends who help us remember to laugh especially through the no-fun moments that threaten to last forever.

Not new news, of course, but today it feels like a fresh perspective:

Parenting = the most creative long-term project I will ever undertake.

Good thing I like creative projects. Thank God for the gift of this family, and thank God for friends to walk alongside as together we enjoy the slowness of this hike of a lifetime.

Thankful Thursday – A New Year

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I haven’t posted a Thankful Thursday in a while. I also cannot believe we are three weeks into 2016. And yet, I’m already planning for spring, and summer, and fall, and I’m not even sure what happened to Christmas except that it was, in surprising ways, quiet, lovely and crazy, relaxing and somehow just what we needed.

I’m thankful.

I am always thankful for our small NorCal town, and the beauties of small-town living.

I am thankful for a Dear One who invited us to our small town Awesome College basketball game on New Year’s Eve – for fun, friends and family cheering together as we encouraged the team and welcomed a new year. And then the goofiness of allowing Tween to stay up until midnight, drinking too much apple cider while snuggling pooch and watching Ryan Seacrest’s (lacking) NYE show.NYEQI
I am thankful for my beloved Guy, and his birthday, and a family excursion to Marin to walk a beautiful wintry beach with my loves.marin dog marin shell marin
I am thankful for opportunities to buy and cook beautiful California in-season produce in enticing ways, to savor flavors and feed my family healthy food.broccoli
I am thankful for new creative projects that challenge, excite, and sometimes scare me just enough.

I am thankful for new books that fulfill my craving to learn through story.Jan16 bks
I am thankful for our moms’ group at church, for the leadership team who pray and lead with love; for the larger group who share their struggles and joys in prayer so we can hope and be encouraged together; and especially for my table group of women with whom we cry and laugh and share in life as we grow in faith and friendship.

I am thankful for snuggly pets.phoebe
I am thankful for my gals who take me as I am, even when I arrive with wet hair because I showered last-minute because I just wasn’t sure I was up to a night out. And yet our friendships light up my life and I need them more than they know.jan gals
I am thankful Finals Week = Almost Over for Teen. I am thankful Teen allowed Guy and me to participate in a coloring project with him (coloring = one of the “school tasks” I’m always willing to do, since no one should truly be graded on coloring), reminiscent of my own mom working on high school projects late into the night with me, cherished memories I hope my son will also have of his mom.C color

Being thankful makes me happy. What are you thankful for so far in 2016?

Panic Attack

I arrived home from work mid-afternoon and found Teen seated on his yoga ball hunched over a stack of papers in front of the family room computer, his study spot. I came up behind him and while I was yet two feet away, he abruptly stiffened and threw his hands in a “Don’t Shoot!” position. Without looking at me he shouted, DON’T touch me!”

I recoiled, slapped by his words. Without a sound, I tip-toed a wide berth and gingerly reached to remove the bowls containing crumbs and residue of his chips and salsa snack.

An hour later Tween and I had flopped on his bed to read aloud a book we’re enjoying together when Teen poured himself in alongside us. He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack and I just couldn’t handle it. I needed to be alone, and couldn’t deal with interruption.” He explained that he’d been trying to figure out his current GPA and what he would need to score on various final exams to keep or raise various grades. He had felt utter despair of being accepted to any college he’d want to attend – the list of which has gotten both shorter and longer as we’ve accepted a realistic assessment of his high school academic performance.jeremiah-29-11

We have prayed this verse over our child since the day we knew we were pregnant, about eighteen years ago. He knows it by heart, and he prays it for himself. And so we talked about the hard fact that God’s plans might not look like ours. As much as he wants to attend a four year college straight out of high school, and he might, perhaps that’s not his only or best option. Maybe taking classes at a community college, getting out of the way classes that would be more difficult at a four-year school, getting a part-time job and a super-cool internship, maybe all that takes some stress off. Maybe it’s okay to not live the Lamorinda norm. YES, it is okay not to live the cultural norm.

Wise beyond his age, Tween understood his presence wasn’t helpful so he slipped off his bed and out of his room while Teen and I talked. I mostly listened as Teen poured out his heart and mind – classes he likes and doesn’t, teachers he loves, teachers he likes but wishes they put more love into their classes, teachers he feels don’t give a damn… None of it an excuse because it’s still up to him to be responsible, work hard, and do his best, but easier done if you feel like the Teacher has invested in both subject and students.

The conversation ended as it was time to move on to sports practice. He trudged to his room to gear up and I followed him. I said aloud his name, and wordlessly my Big Kid poured himself into my arms for a hug. My Teen, generally touch averse, needed a Mom Hug as much as I needed to hold my child for a moment. “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered into my hair.

This weekend he’s out of town for a huge college/high school sports tournament, a high school recruiting event and the only one like it he will attend. Next week he has finals, bad timing. Meanwhile I hope he plays aggressive and safe, and leaves behind some of that stress on the field so that he returns home tired but energized, ready to sleep and then study. He’ll be fine even if the path winds in unexpected directions. We have faith.