20170105_193145-1

Kids + Life = Surprise!

Anything shock you lately? Surprise your socks off? Blue hair might fall in that category….

Before we were even dating, my husband Ken asked me to throw him a surprise 30th birthday party. “Um, if you’re expecting the party, how do I surprise … oh, never mind. Sounds like a fun challenge.” It turned out to be a great gathering of friends. He’s asked me to throw him a surprise party every 5th year since: a tacky tourist party, a micro-brew hangout, a 70’s bash, a family scavenger hunt, and a church-wide mission project. Each an extrovert’s delight.

Not all kid surprises equal good parental surprises though. Like the baby blowouts that necessitated “Mr. Clean” Ken’s changing Carlina’s clothes three times in a row in his first hour of singlehandedly caring for her. An unshakeable father-daughter bond formed that messy summer. While Ken was relieved and delighted to start teaching again in fall, he wouldn’t trade those early months together for anything. Such love surprised him. Bad beginning, good ending, paying dividends for the last eighteen years and counting.  All of which paved the way for our recently-applauded, “chill response” to Carlina’s post-Christmas, blue hair. Surprise!

It doesn’t always work that way. In our house with two students flexing their independence and two parents dealing with new jobs, right now there are not enough “chill responses” to go around. Exhaustion. Impatience. Anger. Fear. Stress. Change. Overwork. These factors eat fun for lunch–or dinner–no matter what age your kids are.

Even the good intentions of a surprise–a mother’s day dinner out–predictably went awry with our two and six-year-old, devolving into an overpriced whine-fest. (p.s. Don’t ever recap such an event by saying, “No biggie; I’ve finally lowered my expectations enough, so I thought it was a good Mother’s day anyway.” Do not speak such exhausted mama-truth to your earnest husband. Don’t even think it loudly.)  I frequently say the wrong thing at the right time.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re on your way to somewhere else.” Kids+ Life = “Surprise!” What about receiving the late night phone call every parent of a teen driver dreads? Finding a wadded-up, lousy report card? Discovering your kid is being bullied by classmates … or doing the bullying? Rushing to the ER, triggering a chain of medical treatments? Facing student depression and/or struggling with disorders?

Anytime a kid starts a pronouncement, “I’ve got something to tell you, Mom. Don’t get mad, but _____,” what comes next will in all likelihood be life-changing: “I lost my _____.” Or, “I missed the _____, but hit a _____.” Or,”I’m _____.”Or, I tried my best, but _____.” Or, meet my new _____.” Surprise!

As a family minister, my conversations often begin when your difficult family conversations end. Though it seems students never put down their devices, our kids are watching us sideways and listening closely to how we respond to “Surprise!”

And I’m not talking about blue hair here, which obviously grows out. I’m thinking about the biggies. In fact, such disasters and follow-up conversations are so predictable with teens that a wise parent brainstorms or role-plays in advance how to respond–sidestepping anger and reaching up for God’s love, mercy, and  grace. With discipline as needed. But not until the next day.

Our words matter. Most of us are not good at thinking on our feet and responding quickly with kindness or love. Then we replay these hard conversations over and over in the middle of the night. I know I need practice being calm & gracious, how about you?

Truth be told, these conversations with students never really end. They just begin a new series of discussions. A student recently tweeted, “The problem lies not in what we say, but in what we do not say.” Can we plan ahead for what we might say–and what we promise ourselves and those we love we will not say?

At Families@Five, a worship service for young families at Second Church Indy, we prayed a simple prayer together to confess our sins every week, followed by our assurance of pardon, “Turn and look someone in the eye and say to them, ‘Jesus loves you no matter what.'”

How can we say that in the face of “Surprise?” How can we respond with God’s-no-matter-what-love, “Nothing you can do can make us love you more and nothing you can do can make us love you less. Your life might get harder, but we’ll love you through it.”

Revelation 21:3-6 gives us a clear, beautiful picture of Jesus as our starting–and ending–point in conflict and in tough situations.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

If Jesus is with us, if we are his people, and if God himself is with us as our God, then Jesus has got this surprise covered. If Jesus can handle even this surprise from beginning to end,  if Jesus will wipe away every tear and all this pain,if Jesus will make all things new, then we will be ok. More than ok. This situation and we will become new.

“Sure,” you might say, “But what about right now, when life sucks?” What about the time before heaven, this in-between-time, when we have to live the reality of stupid choices, when there’s danger or fall-out, when our kids face tough consequences and life-altering decisions, when we pour out tears and regret?

Or when we’re not ready to move through it yet, but mired in denial, anger, conflict, or stubbornness, and kids are stoney in rebellion or headstrong persistence, a long way from repentance?

Jesus’ promise isn’t for just someday. Jesus is making all things new right now.

Jesus doesn’t give up when it gets hard, or when we mess up, or when we stink at forgiving, or when we say the worst possible things at the worst possible time. Jesus doesn’t wait on us to parent well or to get our stuff together to begin working in the situation, and Jesus doesn’t wait for our kids to realize the error of their ways. Jesus’ work in us and in our kids is not over when we fail. Hear Philippians 1:6, “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Even in the now, we can ask for the Spirit to help us love with Jesus’ love, in small ways immediately. We can take one step toward giving mercy with Jesus’ mercy and forgiving with Jesus’ forgiveness. We can be ready for the new, even when it is painful in the now and in the days to come. Jesus has already redeemed us and already redeemed even this situation. It is already accomplished, not by us, but by God. It begins and ends with Jesus: “These words are trustworthy and true. And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

We can respond to our kids with what we all long to hear,”We love you. We’re in this together. And God is in this. God is for you.” Surprise!

 

For excellent ideas on praying for your family, see Cindi McMenamin’s article http://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/7-ways-to-pray-when-your-child-goes-astray.html (accessed 1/27/17).

aclk

Stuck? Throw an “Inch Pebble” Party

Doesn’t fb really stand for “family bragging?” Posts like: “Look at the clever Halloween costumes we made” (with help from a professional makeup artist and the costumer from Lion King?) 14639899_10153984291182918_8499421417956026212_n “My quarterback son just cured cancer during halftime of his Homecoming football game,” or “We— I mean–my daughter won the science fair blue ribbon.”

Am I the only one overwhelmed by parenting my kids, let alone comparing myself to other, overachiever families? (Just because I can’t get my act together to post fb pictures doesn’t mean we’re not having jaw-dropping, creative, family fun–it means you don’t have a good enough imagination.)

We all set basic goals for our kids’ growth (i.e .learning how to use a fork and knife). We help them practice skills and hone talents (not including how to armpit fart–boys teach that to each other.) We help them make mid-course corrections in order to become responsible citizens of the world. (“When you earn a D on your report card, no one but you think that means ‘I have a crappy history teacher.’ The rest of the world thinks, ‘He didn’t do the work.'”) And as families, we get stuck sometimes.

For ministry training this week, I’ve been reading an excellent book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. aclkNot a church-y book, a business book. It covers how to build hope and create forward momentum, even how to make big changes through asking people to take incremental, easily do-able steps. Applicable to get your teen to clean a room, to pay off your enormous college debt, or change that most stubborn behavior.

Good points of the book are: 1) motivate rather than impose change by following the bright spots, 2) build on what’s going well, 3) make it easy to change right now by setting a clear path.

Aiming for your child to be successful in milestones (straight As on the report card or making the A team) is too overwhelming. Heath says to break it down even further. He writes,

piled-smooth-gray-pebbles-3836837Aim for family “inch pebbles.”

Especially for our kids, we might take the time to shrink the problem to what is doable NOW, one inch at a time. OR we can grow our kids by motivating and helping them really want to move the next pebble (celebrations,  vision casting, bribes all help build new pebble-moving habits). Create a path out of “stuck” by providing positive, actionable clarity. Heath says it works better every time than loud, parental “no’s” or even our best, can-do speeches.

It’s as if we flipped the switch on our kids–we suddenly move the pebble forward the next inch in the next five minutes. Worth throwing a party? Yes.

screenshot-2016-09-14-15-16-49

Takin’ Risks & Prayin’ Moonshine

On our road trip to our daughter’s southern college,20160819_124530 we talked for miles about change and fear— (and what exactly is Moonshine anyway? Didja know it’s also “foolish talk or ideas?” The McCoy version of talkin’ smack? Didja know they’re called the Smoky Mountains because fog in the hills looks smoky,20160819_195739 not because Smokey the Bear lives there? Revelation. We clueless Yankees crossed into southern territory, dumbfounded by places where every word is drawled, like the town proudly proclaimed on its water tower as “Florence, KY Ya’ll.”  And then Rockytop, TN. We trolled my siblings, singing “Rockytop” over and over. Sorry. Not Sorry. But I digress.)

For fun, we brainstormed silly conversation openers, pick-up lines, and ways to make new friends for each of us who’ve moved this summer. Which new activities to try. Yes, and which maybe not to try. (I’m both a mom and a minister, after all.) Remember this is the girl who went paraglidingscreenshot-2016-09-14-15-16-49 in Argentina this summer.  Jumped off a mountain with a parachute for Pete’s sake.) Anyhoo, during freshman orientation, Carlina tweeted:

Aug 27 that moment between taking a risk and seeing if it pays off or blows up in your face. that. 1 RETWEET 2 LIKES

Yes, that. A leap of faith. Restlessness. Passion. Optimism. On the verge. In a liminal space. Hope-filled. Moving forward. In transition. All those phrases suggest you are taking a risk and opening up your life into a new season of change. Call it whatever you wish, for many of us change is spelled:

F-E-A-R.

For some of us, that moment sss-tttt-rrrrrr-eeee-tch-eeees and sss-tttt-rrrrrr-eeee-tch-eeees out some more. I know it. I’ve read books about it. I’ve coached others through that season, asking them questions, “What one hopeful step can you take today? How can you use this in-between-time for growth? What great, big, God-sized dreams are you praying for?”

Mmm hmmm. “One hopeful step.” Sounds great to say TO SOMEONE ELSE! Even though I’ve lived it before. Six cross-country moves. Three career changes. Eight job changes.  A few years ago we accidentally turned into that family that moves a lot.  I now have several “interim” job titles on my resume to explain. But not anymore, right? We’re done. Settled. Let’s hope. Except that we follow “One who is notoriously unpredictable,” as Tim Hansel said.

Last time I made a big change from the Midwest to that region-that-must-not-be-named, it stretched into a year of underemployment. Many prayers later, I discovered that God and I do NOT have a special arrangement just because I’m a minister and supposedly follow Him full-time. (I dunno exactly how I wandered into that conclusion before? Hence the “supposedly.” #heresyalert). No job handed to me with my DMin diploma, either. (Uh Fuller, what WAS that $18,000 and five years good for? “Still waiting….” [Cue the Energizer Bunny.]  “Still waiting….”)

So no God deals for an insta-job. Turns out finding my fit takes time. And stinks. Even this time around, two years and three moves later, two years wiser. I know God is faithful; He’s done it before and can do it again, in my life specifically. Moving here to Chicagoland is but one part of what God’s gonna do next, and we have a front row seat to watch for it. (I hear your voice, Sally Kruse.) And I hear all you Narbs people shouting and jumping up and down, “Yeah, we heard it from YOUR mouth at Thanksgiving last year! ‘God is faithful; He provided us a job and a house and an open door.’ Do you listen to yourself, Pastor Tassie?” Yep, I’m not just talkin’ moonshine.

I’m trying to wait expectantly, with creativity, hope, and imagination—and all those big words I listed above. Many of you have inspired me with your hunger, passion, patience, and longing for God as you wait for a child or job or a cure or a yes. Thank you for your examples, far, far better than my own words. There’s still room for my great big, God-sized dream. And I also have learned the flip-side: if I want to make God laugh, just tell Him my plans.

How will I wait? I’m doing more praying, that’s for sure. Risking. Taking fruitful actions. Prayer doodling. Leadership brush-up. SWOT analyses. SMART goals. I’m using this time in-between to advance my skills. Reactivate my network. Make connections. Consult with a few churches. And did I mention prayin’ moonshine? Right now I’m praying for an exciting role at the Chapel, overseeing family ministry at eight churches. Or whatever our big God has planned. Please join my prayer posse. And let me know how I can join yours.

82b4ca_74911f2d7e6f4f648ac99a9ae22e29a1

Big Lou & the DMV

 

searchFriends have epic war stories from the Jersey DMV. Waiting for hours only to have the line cut off just before you enter. Penna DMV was a stuffy 30×30 room with 75 customers packed in and 5 grim robots working too hard. “Papers?” Stamp. “Test?” Stamp. “Check?” Stamp. Indiana BMV was the best organized, with wait times posted online for each location.

But “wow,” Illinois DMV does friendly! Today I overheard and oversaw midwest-friendly in all its glory. When I first spotted a smile, my lingering, northeast suspicion popped up, “What’s really going on here? She’s smiling. Is he maybe asking her for a date? Nope. Smiling at the next three people in line, too. For no reason. And, look ! He is, too.” Scanning the room, “Oops, not the door bouncer. Definitely not her. But most. Weird.”patchmania_dmv_inside

All but 3 of the 28 workers, smiling. Some were even kind. Willing to treat people like people. Joking with each other and customers, “Where’s the sausage? I need sausage to work here. Or steak.” “Lou, you already look like you’ve eaten too much steak.”

Even while explaining the same questions over and over. You’d think they’d read Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The six people who helped me each welcomed me back into town, like extended family I hadn’t yet met. Doug offered to use the picture from my last IL driver’s license–10 years ago. “You look the same. Really. Though your hair is red now?!” Uh, I do have one big question,” he asked, “What’s the deal with Philly Cheesesteaks?  Cheesewhiz? Really?”

When a young woman jitters up to Lou’s counter to apply for her learner’s permit, he plays it tough, “You know, we don’t give these to just anybody.” Blink, blink. “But you, well, since you have such nice handwriting, ok.” Big grin. She grins back.

Lou adds, “I’m really excited you’re here today because we need more good female drivers in Chicago.”

He reassures the next kid, “The test is easy. You’ll do great.”

Lou’s a guy with a mission. Not just pushing people through the process at record speed. Nope. Because frankly, it took  1 1/2 + hours to navigate through 6 lines along with a couple hundred others trying to get our titles, plates, application, vision & written tests and a half-decent photo. My lucky number was #643.

But you know what? I actually didn’t mind. From what I saw and overheard, Lou and the others’ mission was to help their neighbors, not just crank out small laminated cards with bad photos. Even the woman who failed the written test (Tricksy hobbitses! Expecting drivers to recognize stop signs!?) Even she got a comforting word.

At the DMV? Who knew?82b4ca_74911f2d7e6f4f648ac99a9ae22e29a1 I felt good when I walked out, better than when I walked in. Now that’s unexpected.

Maybe I should stop by  the DMV for a pep talk before my  job interview next Wednesday. If that Church gig doesn’t pan out, I could apply to work there. Or thinking more postively, take my new family ministry staff on a field trip. If so, maybe I should bring Big Lou some sausage. Widout whiz.

Mission accomplished: family time

unspecified

Most of the Macs (minus Ellen/Brendan/Davis, Christie/Lexy, Kari/Jodie)

Since my mission statement is “Helping make Jesus real in the lives of families, beginning with our own,” this summer has been a great step toward accomplishing the second half of that goal. And if it can happen while floating on a raft on the Lake, all the better!

Celebrating Dad’s 80th birthday, waterskiing, playing Balderdash,prepping meals for 24, composing family haiku while cloud-gazing, shopping for college dorm essentials, talking and praying together on the porch, competing intergenerationally in pickleball tourneys, and laughing, and laughing some more.  aad754bc-c830-4bc2-bf7e-751250cc5084

Our family’s move to Chicagoland and our summer engaged with the cuzzies (favorite cousins) near and far has been a gift from God, who has been very present in it all. Thank you, Lord, for our family.

All in. First purchases: skates and jerseys

There’s no place like home

Happily settling in, enjoying midwest comforts and family time. Grateful to be back!

family-moving-23244418

Moving: Junk and Joy

It’s packing day tomorrow. Moving day Friday. Thanks be to God all but our clothes are stacked  in a wall of boxes from last summer’s move.  Oh, we’ll slam headfirst into that wall of stuff and junk when we unpack next week.  But tomorrow, no sweat.

Marie Kondo’s test whether to keep any item is to ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” IF SO, we must be the most joyful people ANYWHERE!

My well-to-do grandma had a shoe-box tucked away on her closet shelf, scrawled with the label, “string to short to use.” Now there’s a carry-over of a fearful, depression-era mindset. No joy in that shoe-box. Can’t save everything.

What about our good friend Blair McKee’s classic 2 step moving method? 1) Light match. 2) Toss into pile. Weeeelll, as good as it sounds to me today, no joy in that either. Can’t  dump everything.

family-moving-23244418

As Ken’s the boy-scoutish “be prepared” saver and I’m the Scarlet O’Hara “fiddle-dee-dee” thrower, how will we face this big event together? I guarantee it won’t help that he’s on the red-eye flight home from Portland tonight, slammed from a crazy work week at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. So perhaps we’d best face it delicately? Please join me in praying for our marriage.

As you throw out an item, Kondo says you thank the junk for serving you well. Who knew I’ve been doing it wrong? I’ve been incredibly thankful, and didn’t even realize it. (I’m not sure what Kondo says to do if you recycle or sell the stuff, but at this point I’d do a flipflop of happiness.  Some stuff I can’t even get people to take for free.)

What would happen if we applied this method to the Church, asking about each practice and event, “Does it spark joy? And then thanking the ones we toss out for serving us well. Certainly better than the match method, tempting though it seems.

I do think the “spark joy” option might actually work better in the Church than in our borrowed mansion’s king-size, walk-in closet. Especially since we’re right-sizing  back to a ranch with a twin-size closet.

Hmmm, on second thought, where is that matchbook?

FamilyLaunch will be back when we’re settled in Palatine, IL, joyfully!