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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

 

Carried Away

Today our middle school will hold the 6th grade dance, the one-and-only dance of the year for 6th grade students. Which reminded me of this story I wrote a year ago, when Tween played an unexpected center stage role in tween-age drama. It felt too raw to post then, and too likely to cause offense among the already carried away adults. Today I am grateful we have a lot less drama (of this sort, anyway) in our lives.

I got a call today from the school counselor regarding an issue with my 6th grade son. She said there had been rumors, and he had admitted to being the source. Allegedly, he and another boy had planned to get a girl to ask a boy to the 6th grade dance this Friday, all as a joke. The boy has special needs…

No one should be the butt of a girl-likes-boy-NOT joke, especially not a child who has other issues. That’s bullying, obviously unacceptable. It’s also completely out of character with who I know my son to be. Could it be a bad judgment call on a new-to-him awkward social situation? Perhaps.

Except it never happened, at least not like that.

Concerned that my son would hatch such a plan, I promised the counselor I would talk with him. So I did. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not At All. Siding with the adults, I took that as a sign of guilt. I continued to push, and he burst into tears. I took that as a sign of shame. He kept saying, “But Mom, we were joking!” and couldn’t understand why that upset me.

I explained again (and again–cue Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice: “Wa wa wa wa wa…”) what I had heard from the counselor, and how that didn’t seem to line up with what he was saying. I asked my son if he was lying, to the counselor or to me. He begged to just get back to his homework, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Minutes later I received a call from another mom. It seems the 6th graders had inflated in their minds this once-only 6th grade dance into something akin to a prom. They thought they needed dates. What about the slow dances? Boys were asking girls to the dance. Girls were asking boys to the dance. Everyone was talking about who was going with whom, and who should ask whom, and what if so-and-so asked so-and-so.

Parents were calling parents: do I need to volunteer to drive my son and his date to the dance? (No one drives to an after-school dance). Should we have a conversation with our daughter and your son to set expectations? Obviously they’re too young to date so we want to be clear she can dance with whomever she wants.

Egads, people, it’s a 6th grade after-school dance! We all need to take a deep breath.

This is the drama surrounding the rumors attributed to my son.

On Monday, only four days yet eons ago to the pre-teen brain, back when he truly believed he must have a date to the dance, my son and a friend had a quiet conversation in math class. They said something like, “What if Girl A asked Boy B?” They weren’t going to talk to Girl A; she wasn’t going to ask Boy B to the dance; neither child was in their math class, just random names that popped to mind. The whole conversation was conjecture, something to talk about during a few spare minutes. Let’s consider: why do 6th grade boys talk about anything? Sheesh, who knows?

Apparently an adult overheard them and told another adult who told the counselor. What the adult didn’t overhear was, “What if Boy C asked Girl D, or Girl E/F/G asked Boy H/I/J…?” You get the picture. The adults didn’t.

Rather, the adults thought a) the students were hatching a plan and b) that the plan specifically included Girl A because she is cute and Boy B because he has special needs. The counselor then invited kids from the math class into her office, two by two, asking about the rumor, until two someones copped to the conversation.

Mind you, it was only a rumor because the adults talked to one another. The kids had been oblivious.

My son had NO idea Boy B had special needs. In fact, when I asked if he knew the boy had special needs, he didn’t even understand the term. He has no classes with the boy, he doesn’t know him well, and his impression is that “he’s nice.”

Another miscommunication: my son had told the counselor he and the other boy “were joking.” To his 6th grade mind that meant, “We were having a meaningless conversation.” Joking as in, light-hearted, of no consequence; NOT joking as in to poke fun at, to prank.

But the well-meaning, overly-conscientious adults interpreted the situation as a mean-spirited prank. Which is why everyone was surprised that my son was at the center—this doesn’t sound like something he’d do at all.

Because he didn’t.

What IS in character is to make and keep peace at any cost. When pushed, he will accept even undeserved blame. He admitted he had spoken “the rumor.” He thought he had explained himself by saying we were joking. He didn’t understand and didn’t ask why everyone was so upset. In his old-soul way, he sees that adults get all bent out of shape over things that don’t warrant it, and he wrote the situation off to that. He didn’t tell me about it not because of guilt, or shame, or lies, but because to him it was truly No Big Deal.

Yet a few stirred-up adults spent a whole lot of time stirring up a whole lot of students trying to get to the bottom of a situation that never was.

On the one hand, I get it. In the too recent past, the school dealt with a fairly serious bullying issue. In the more distant past, the school had a serious abuse issue. They have to act on suspicion to prevent harm and protect students.

But there could have been a simpler solution. The administration must have been aware that the 6th graders had misunderstood the dance. A counselor or administrator could have taken a few minutes in the math class under suspicion or, better yet, in each of the required 6th grade Core classes, to explain the dance: No dates, all group fun. No suggesting or speculating or joking that anyone ask anyone, and we certainly don’t want anyone humiliating anyone by pretending to ask someone, because that would be bullying, and not in character with our iKind school, and would carry consequences. Any questions? That could have solved the problem, minus the student interrogation and accusations.

I am bothered that an overly suspicious adult in a petri dish culture of fear put into motion a chain of events that led to me accusing my son of being both mean and a liar. Neither is true (and my heart knew it), and I have asked my son’s forgiveness.

The real irony? He’s not even going to the dance. He has other plans.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

What We’ve Learned about Sleep

Most parents coach their infants to consistent sleep patterns and take their high school graduates to college. Tween didn’t learn to sleep, so in middle school we took him to a major university to participate in research on teen sleep.

1 week old

Every child is different, right? Teen was a great sleeper from Week 1 (or maybe that was the C-section drugs?). Still, he played hard during the day and slept hard during the night.

At the other end of the sleep spectrum, Tween never slept well. His crib was in our room for the first year and we did this ridiculous crawling-on-the-floor-through-the-dark routine to get to our bathroom and/or bed; no matter, it never worked. This child popped up, alert as a bird at daybreak, to say hello?, love me!, hold me!, feed me! Entertain. Me. NOW!

As a little guy, his sleep-resistance efforts were kinda cute albeit occasionally maddening. Somewhere I have hilarious video footage of him at about 20 months, naked in his crib, bouncing and singing his ABCs. Rather than nap, he’d stripped the bed and tossed everything on the floor, then stripped himself and provided the music for his own happy baby dance party.

We thought Tween was just a light sleeper. During the day he wields a different energy than his brother, so needs less sleep at night. Right? In his mid-elementary years he finally spoke up: he felt constantly exhausted. Either he’d lie awake for hours before sleep descended, or he’d conk out only to wake up in the wee hours. Either way, he didn’t get consistent, sufficient sleep.

So when we received a card in the mail inviting participation in a sleep study for teens with sleep disorders he immediately said, YES! Maybe they can help me sleep…

Did you know that sleep coaching can be as effective as medication for developing better sleep? That’s what the researchers told us. It hasn’t entirely solved the problem; this will be his life-long issue. But it has helped, and we’re grateful. It’s also gone a long way towards demonstrating his parents’ love for him and care for his well-being.

What did we do?

The study involved, for Tween and for me, a series of phone and in-person interviews plus on-paper assessments before we could be admitted to the study, repeated periodically over the course of a year. Tween spent the night at the university a couple times. No, he did not wear electrodes all over his head. Instead, they took saliva and administered computer tests throughout the afternoon/evening, and again in the morning. For a week at a time, a few times, he had a daily phone interview with a researcher, and other weeks he wore a special watch that works much like a FitBit to record activity, light, and sleep.

Best of all, he met weekly for an hour with a sleep coach over seven weeks. We haven’t seen the official study results yet so we don’t truly know what the researchers discovered. We do know, however, what we learned from Tween’s sleep coach.

What did we learn?

For Tween, and for many of us who struggle with sleep, his thoughts proved a massive obstacle to sleep. Any of this sound familiar? Watching the clock. Pondering (trying not to ponder) thoughts from today or concerns about tomorrow. Expecting not to fall asleep. Worrying about when you might fall asleep. Trying to force sleep. Wondering why in the world is it so hard for me to sleep?

He has to calm his mind…

Get rid of the clock. We removed Tween’s digital alarm clock from his room. He now has to trust that, if his parents haven’t woken him, it is not time to be awake. This works for adults, too. Silence your smart phone, then set an alarm. Don’t look at it until it goes off.

Journal. An hour or so before bed, write down all the things you want to remember from today or brainstorm for tomorrow. Make notes so you free up brain space to begin to relax.

Gratitude. Reset your brain by focusing on the things for which you can be grateful. Recording three unique items for gratitude each day has also been shown to increase happiness.

Wind down. This was one of our biggest and best discoveries. For an hour before bed, turn off the screens. Turn down the lights (more mood lighting, less overheads). Instead of playing video games or watching TV, read a (kinda boring) book. Journal. Draw. Do a puzzle. Whatever it is that relaxes you, do that. Wind down can also include nightly rituals, like a bath/shower, a cup of herbal tea, a hand-and-foot massage, or diffusing essential oils. We know bedtime routines are essential for littles, yet we forget how truly relaxing those routines can be.

Restrict bed for sleep only. We read bedtime stories to our kids in bed. We send them to bed a few minutes early with a book. Except reading in bed trains our brains to go crazy in bed, whereas we want our brains to cue that bed means sleep. Set up a separate in-bedroom cozy nook for reading/wind down time.

Block light. Another key discovery: even the tiniest bit of light disturbs sleep, another reason to ban the digital clock. If you can’t get rid of all light sources, try a sleep mask. Tween occasionally pulls his out; I use mine every night, no fail. It’s annoying at first. You get used to it.

White noise. We are big believers in bedroom fans. The fan doesn’t have to point at the bed, and it doesn’t have to be on high. A little air movement and a little whirring will do the trick, even if you wear ear plugs–another plus for light sleepers.

Get up. If you’re not sleeping after what feels like a half-hour, get up; keep lights low (store a small flashlight or head lamp nearby) and do something quiet and relaxing. After what feels like another half-hour, go back to bed. Repeat until you can fall asleep.

Rise up! Don’t hit snooze in the morning, just get up. Wash your hands and face with cold water. Open the windows, head out the door, search out the sun. You can move your way into greater energy even when you want to collapse. Get going, and keep going, until wind down time.

There were other tips–limit caffeine; don’t nap; keep your bedtime and wake-up times consistent throughout the week–all common sense. Tweens and teens may need up to 11 hours of sleep per night; 9.5 hours is a reasonable goal, even when that feels completely unreasonable (homework and sports and whatever, oh my!).

Two key moments in our sleep research experience…

It is nearly impossible to estimate your own sleep quantity or quality. We are so accustomed to asking our loved ones, “How’d you sleep?” And we have no idea that there is no way they can accurately answer that question. People simply can’t tell–even as they stare down their clocks–how long it took them to fall asleep, or how long or deeply they slept. Unless you wear a smart gadget, and even those glitch.

Then the sleep coach said something to this effect: “All this only really matters because the world keeps moving on schedule. If you could just sleep in anytime to get the sleep you need, we wouldn’t need to try to regulate your overnight sleep.” Huh.

To that point, I am grateful that our society in general and our local schools particularly have begun to take seriously research on teen sleep. Through adolescence kids need to sleep more in the morning. Not all, but many (most?) do. It’s biology, and we should work with our bodies rather than against them.

For my part, I have begun getting ready for bed when Tween does. I make some herbal tea (I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime teas), wash my face, put on a headlamp, and read in the almost-dark until my eyes get heavy. I sleep better on those nights. School is stressful and homework loads vary, so Tween cannot be as consistent at this stage. Nevertheless, he has learned early some very important lessons.

On the drive to our first in-person interview I said, “This is kinda cool! I bet you’re the only middle schooler you know who gets to participate in research at a major university!”

To which he calmly responded: “Yah, but I’m also the only middle schooler I know who has insomnia…”

Someday he won’t be the only adult he knows with insomnia, but he might just be the best-rested insomnia-wrestling adult he knows!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Meatless Monday – Lentil Soup

The fickle spring weather turned chilly again just as half our family returned from a house building week in Mexico, overtired and weezy from dust. I decided a hearty pot of lentil soup might do the trick: warm and comforting, restorative in the best ways.

Ten years ago I couldn’t tell you if I had ever eaten a lentil. A new friend brought over a package of lentils as a salad additive and I looked at them as if she’d handed me a seed packet; they might do something great, but I have No Idea what to do with them…

These days lentils are one of my go-to ingredients. They’re easy, yummy, eat them simply or add them to almost whatever. Inexpensive and healthy to boot.

But there are lentil soups and more lentil soups. I’ve made many and they’re good, fine, meh. I needed a better-than-the-rest lentil soup to clear away the fog and funk. I read several recipes, improved on the base of one with additives from others, and I think I’ve got it.

It began with this recipe. I’d bought celery special–I wanted, expected, celery in my lentil soup. Onion, carrot, celery: the essentials, right? Add lentils, veggie broth, some spices, and you’re right on track.

So I checked other recipes, compared ratios, and added celery. I omitted the oil and salt, because why add them? The canned tomatoes and veggie broth add enough salt to flavor. Then I found a perfect zucchini in the crisper. Why not add zucchini to a lentil soup? Maybe that’s a little ‘minestrone’ of me, but I tell you, it worked. And if I hadn’t had a zucchini, I would have added a drained and rinsed can of garbanzo beans. More veggie goodness = great!

And then I oops-ed by confusing curry powder with ground cumin, almost the same color. The ratios were meant to be two teaspoons of one and one of the other, but I did two of the wrong one…and found out it wasn’t wrong. To the contrary, it was just more right.

A couple of weeks ago, Tween and I were watching a cooking show. Of course they were preparing some dish, or many, that included meat. He commented, “Sometimes I wish I could eat meat. I might like to try something like that.”

I get it, Buddy. I really do. I ate meat for 20+ years of my life until I gradually realized I didn’t any more. And now I don’t, and don’t want to.

I told my kiddo: “You know, their food probably tastes great. But it’s not as healthy for their bodies or the planet. And because they eat meat they eat less veggies, which are better for bodies and the planet. I truly believe they are missing out. Not us.”

This lentil soup reminds me of that conversation. The desire for a fab lentil soup elicited greater creativity and led me to a fab end result. I’m not missing out. Not at all.

This past weekend Teen came home early from an event and put himself to bed because he felt so sick. The next day I discovered the truth: he wanted to try it, so he’d had a few bites of chicken. However, his system didn’t want it, and those bites of chicken are still biting back three days later. (In terms of rebellious teen behavior, I don’t feel too badly…)

As he recovers, you know what he asked for? Another favorite veggie soup. Bring it on!

Lentil Soup
Serves 4-6

2 c medium yellow or white onion, diced
2 c carrots, peeled and diced
2 c celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c zucchini, diced (optional, or sub 1 can drained/rinsed chickpeas)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 c brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 c vegetable broth
1 ¼ c water
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 c chopped fresh collard greens or kale, tough ribs removed; option to sub chopped spinach
Juice of ½ to 1 medium lemon, to taste

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add chopped onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini (or chickpeas), cumin, curry powder, and thyme. Stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add undrained tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often.

Pour in lentils, broth, and water. Add red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Remove pot from heat. Using a stick blender, gently pulse to puree some of the soup. Alternately, transfer 2 c of soup to a blender and purée until smooth, then pour puréed soup back into the pot. Add chopped greens and stir until wilted.

Remove the pot from heat and stir in the juice of half of a lemon. Taste and season with pepper and/or lemon juice until the flavors really sing. Serve immediately.

Note: Produce varies wildly by size. For me, this recipe was about 1/2 of a large onion, 2 exceptionally fat carrots, and 6-ish skinny celery stalks. So I approximated about 2 cups of each. If you have a little more or less of an ingredient, you’re fine. Also, if you have a 28-oz can of tomatoes, just add a little more water or broth. Don’t sweat yourself, just sweat the veggies 😉

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Found!

If you attended our church this morning, you heard Guy preach this story. If you know me well, you may have heard me tell this story. Having studied Luke 15 earlier this week, this story has lingered on my heart. It has become a touchstone of faith for our family, a reminder of God’s love and protection.

Mother’s Day weekend, May 2011, we went camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. Between us we had four adults and five boys, ages seven to twelve. Tween was the youngest, having turned seven just a few days earlier.

Saturday morning we made our way up the Vernal Falls trail. Less than two miles round-trip, it’s still a moderate hike with a 400 foot elevation gain. We went slowly, re-configuring along the way: at times I walked with my Guy, other times with my friend. The boys, older adventurers in the lead with the youngers working hard to keep up, mostly scrabbled up and over the rocks to the left of the trail, reappearing now and again.

Tween loves to adventure with his brother, but he’s less adventurous at heart. He needs to periodically touch Mama before racing off after the boys. I was grateful we’d dressed him in a long-sleeved, bright red, highly visible T-shirt.

At one dramatic vista point, we stopped to admire the raging Merced River below, a rare sight in the California drought. Guy nudged me onward, but I lingered; Tween hadn’t checked in. At that spot, he really should have. We shared a look, and then began running.

The other couple had four boys, but not five. Where was Tween?

Panic-struck, the men dropped their packs with me and ran in opposite directions: one up, the other down. The other mama continued walking with the boys, while I stayed put with the packs I couldn’t lift anyway.

Commence the longest hour of my life. When it had passed, you could have told me it had been five hours and I would’ve nodded, yes, of course. Time elongated, tortuously so.

Tween was born five weeks early. The pastor who came to pray with me read Psalm 91. Verse 11 jumped off the page–this baby, too early on his way into the world, needed God’s protection. We have prayed this verse for him all his life: God will put His angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. Considering he’s a true homebody, preferring to go nowhere, it has provided regular comfort.

Over and over and over I claimed that promise for my lost baby as I sat alone on that trail. I focused on the waterfall trickling on the rock face across from me, trying to block images of my fallen child, foot stuck between rocks, or washing away in the mad river. Each time people came around the bend I hoped they had my little one in tow. They didn’t, but one young girl wore a shirt that read: “God is good all the time.” I accepted it as reassurance that God was, indeed, protecting Tween.

Feeling overwhelming responsibility, Teen came back to sit with me. He cried angry tears. How had he lost his little brother? We prayed together before he ran to catch up.

When he came back again his face was still wet with tears but he shouted: We’ve got him! Just as Guy arrived at the ranger station and the ranger picked up the phone to call Search and Rescue, our friend arrived at the Vernal Falls footbridge and found Tween with a family with kids about his size. He called his wife who called Guy, then sent Teen back to me so we could all rejoice in the good news.

Somehow Tween had landed on the trail ahead of our group. He thought he was behind, so he raced on. He described his mama to everyone he passed, and when this family realized he was lost, they kept pace with him. When Tween didn’t see us at the footbridge, he wanted to keep going. They kept him safe, knowing that parents wouldn’t keep hiking up the Mist Trail without their young child.

Two weeks later neighbors suggested we spend Memorial Day at Muir Beach. We’d never been and we love the beach. That day, though, turned out to be cold and windy, a hard beach day. I couldn’t sit still to enjoy idle conversation. Dogs and kids played–my polar bears even waded into the water–while Guy and I walked the length of beach, back and forth, moving just to keep warm.

As Tween jumped behind a boulder, I realized he was again wearing his red T-shirt. Sheesh, you’d think he’d be easy to see! He popped back into sight and kept running after his brother.

The boys hopped from rock to rock when we heard, “Is that Tween?” Honest to God, the same family who had found him in Yosemite were standing on the beach. Seriously, what are the odds? We thanked them again, profusely. Tween calls them his angels (later we had to encourage him that, while God did use this family to protect him, we couldn’t count on them to show up if Tween acted irresponsibly…)

Beginning when he was four, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with Tween night after night. One night a few months after Tween met his angels, we again came to the last story. It was sweet to snuggle and read together, so we kept going. Here’s the last page:

I looked at Tween. He was beaming and I realized more was going on than just bedtime stories. I asked, “You believe that, right? You’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus?” He smiled and nodded, so I continued, “That means that, even more than my child, you are God’s dear child. He loves you and you belong to Him.”

Those 25 minutes were the highlight of my week, and that may not be saying enough. God gave me the assurance that my child loves Jesus and wants to live God’s story for his life. The hour my child was lost was the worst of my life, but he has been found. Jesus came to seek and to save His lost children. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, a thousand times thank you!

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Found: Luke 15

Connect
When have you searched for something you’d lost?

Study
Read aloud Luke 15:1-7.
Jesus assumes that his audience would have the experience of searching for one of their own lost sheep. How might Jesus tell this parable today?
How is the sinner like the lost sheep? How is repentance like being found?
What is the shared emotional response between finding the sheep and the sinner’s repentance (vv. 5-7)? Why is that significant?
What is the role of “friends and neighbors” (v. 6)? Why are they important?
Who are the 99 righteous? Do they really not need to repent?
Why do the Pharisees and teachers complain (v. 2)? How does Jesus’ parable respond to their complaint?
Parables have one main point. How would you state Jesus’ one main point in this parable?

Live
How does a critical attitude get in the way of hearing Jesus?
Who went looking for you when you were lost? Who have you gone looking for?
Who are your “friends and neighbors” with whom you can celebrate found sheep?
How might joy be the antidote to criticism? What can you do to cultivate joy in the Lord?
For which lost sheep are you praying?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray specifically for the lost sheep you love to be found by Jesus.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin