We’ve got spirit, yes we do…

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This is a slightphoto 15 exaggeration

But I live for five days out of the year

More than Christmas, my birthday, Thanksgiving and the first and last days of school combined

My jam is

Spirit Week

That magical time in February when kids who attend a private Christian school with a strict uniform policy let their hair down

Five marvelous days filled with a daily theme, friendly competition, prizes and fun

Since my oldest olive shoot was in middle school, Spirit Week has been like my Super Bowl, my World Cup, my time to shine as a mom…

Or not

Because you see, as my three sons have oft reminded me,

Technically, it’s not MY Spirit Week

It’s theirs

Hrmph!photo 23

It’s an annual battle royal as we compete for control and preparation.

It’s private conversations between my friends as we ruminate about possible ideas all the while acting cool, calm and collected around our kids.

It’s when I google and Pinterest and imagine secretly wishing there was a Spirit Week for moms because we need it more than they do.

It’s me being the person who wants to plan ahead versus my olive shoots not wanting to think about any of it until maybe the night before, I’ll spare you the details since they are usually too painful to discuss.

But last week was Spirit Week and Monday was Pajama Day. In previous years I have sewn pajama pants for my boys. Heck, I even purchased grapefruit fabric about a year ago in anticipation of making Ike some citrus inspired sleeping pants because he loves him some grapefruit. To my chagrin, however, now as a junior in high school, Ike rebuffed my offer. This year he was boring but our borrowed Brazilian olive shoot wore this onesie which surely made the ladies swoon!photo 22

Perhaps the low-key Pajama Day was God’s way of giving me a slight Sabbath before the preparation for Tuesday-Thursday of Spirit Week.

I can’t wait to tell you about what we they I did!

Does anyone else know the joy and agony of Spirit Week???

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My son’s first sermon

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"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 3:4

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

The first time I heard the name Aaron, I turned to my husband at church and said,

“Our next son will be named Aaron.”

I loved the name Aaron for three reasons.

1. It looked cool. Two of the same letters next to each other in a name basically rocks and you know it.

2013-06-16 10.10.242. Spiritual – Though my Christian spiritual journey was evolving, I loved the idea of having kids with biblical names.

3. Professional – I had made a career throughout the country teaching presentation skills and even had my own consulting business working in the corporate world teaching executives about public speaking. The Aaron written of in the Bible was a great orator among other notable qualities.

In other words, I just had to have an Aaron!

So right there in the pew, next to my toddler Nathan and the Hubs, God delivered this name “Aaron” like a song and a promise to my soul.

Two years later, he was born. Nate called him his “miracle.” I had birthed my Aaron.

The name fits him perfectly. Aaron is a rising sophomore at Moody Bible Institute and an enthusiastic speaker, a wonderful olive shoot and a Jesus follower.

But I could never have imagined what would happen this past Father’s Day.

2013-06-16 11.03.48On Father’s Day, Aaron delivered his first sermon.

In front of our extended family, the gluten-free gf and other members of our con- gregation, the Hubs and I sat and listened to our Aaron preach.

Aaron and the gf/gf just before he got up to share the sermon

Aaron and the gf/gf just before he got up to share the sermon

His sermon was about the importance of fatherhood in the Christian home.

The Lord has blessed my ministry-minded middle with an affable personality and a comfort in front of crowds.

2013-06-16 11.00.56

Ike read the Scripture before his big brother gave the sermon. I don’t even think I owned a Bible when I was his age and if I did, I certainly never opened it. Thank you Lord for these glimpses of grace!

Of course, you know I am biased, but I would have listened to Aaron’s words even if he wasn’t my son. He delivered the message with conviction, thoughtfulness and passion.

At one point in the sermon, I turned to the gluten-free gf and felt very convicted about the message. I whispered to her, “I’m glad God didn’t make me a father. I’ll just be the mom, thank you, Lord, very much!” She smiled and agreed!

God gave the Hubs a gift on Father’s Day and He used our Aaron to deliver it. What a sweet blessing to behold and something I, this former angry agnostic, feminist, existentialist woman never would have imagined!2013-06-16 11.01.21

On Sunday morning, we saw the culmination of all the hard work my boy had poured tirelessly into his message. The hours researching, studying Scripture, praying, consulting with our pastor and seeking the Lord’s voice before he used his own were worth it.

The night before, he stayed up late going over his message with the gf/gf. I think she probably had that thing memorized.

What blessed me as a mom and as a church member was the reverence and time he gave to his message. This is not always the standard today.

I felt safe with the way he handled Scripture, Aaron’s words were measured and forceful yet he spoke humbly.  Aaron has been raised by a godly, Christian dad but he also acknowledged that he has no experience being a father.

As I listened to him speak, I recalled that Sunday morning when I first heard about an Aaron.

Now I was hearing from my own.

Wearing a new polo shirt purchased the day before, looking so handsome and adorable, full of the Spirit, oh, how could my heart contain such pride and joy!

Here is an excerpt of his sermon. I look forward to hearing many more. Don’t you just love it when your kids make you proud and do something you never imagined possible?!

Entertaining thoughts about entertaining – getting kids ready for guests

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Lemonhead party!

Lemonhead party!

If we know you are coming over to our house, there are things we do before you arrive. As the mama of three sons, one of whom is currently in Ranger School, I have learned that in military terms, presumably we could call it a “movement.”

We straighten up – usually a vacuum is pushed throughout the area you will visit. There is often dusting beforehand and the bathroom is cleaned. The bathroom deserves its own post though, more on that later.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

They put on a nice shirt– although my boys moaned and groaned about this, we found that the mere act of putting on a collared shirt indicated they were part of the team. In our family we call it W-H style since those are the initials to our last name. Changing out of regular clothes means something special is going to happen. The collared shirt (usually a polo shirt, rarely long-sleeved)  signifies that our family, every single one of us, not just Dad and Mom, is having company. Even if only one person is invited, the level of alert is heightened.

We rehearse – Just as we had practice training sessions about manners, throughout the years, our family still goes over a list of duties before people show up.

“Ike, you’re in charge of water and drinks. Make sure no one’s glass remains empty.”

“Aaron, don’t talk too much, let others also speak and try to sit still.”

“Nate, when we’re done with dinner, gather up the plates.”

All the guys had a purpose.

So maybe you’re wondering –

Did it always work perfectly? Of course not! We never expected things to be flawless but there was a standard.

Always the life of the party, that's my Aaron!

This guy needs more than a collared shirt! My Aaron!

Did your kids feel like robots devoid of any personality? You haven’t been to our house if you’re asking that question! No, they actually had more freedom because of the rules. We made it fun and not overly formal.

Collared shirts every single time? Not every single time but often. Freshly showered, collared young men are so adorable. Sometimes they would dab a bit of cologne on before bounding down the stairs. The hint of manly fragrance on their middle school necks always made my heart grin and grow wistful. I wish those days back again quite honestly. When the doorbell rang, we were ready for our guests’ arrival. We appreciated them coming into our home.

And I must share this.

Our guests appreciate these touches although most might not even realize what happened behind the scenes. They are just blessed and isn’t that the whole point to entertaining, blessing someone? The minimal preparation we employed allows our guests to be at ease. In some way it announces this family is ready and we have things (slightly) under control.

Last summer, my oldest OS rented a house near Fort Benning and he and his buddies hosted a gathering. Nate called me for advice on menu selection and such. He even wanted to make sure he served a salad (this melted my heart). My boy wanted people to feel welcome in his home. I’m sure my Soldier was a gracious host and maybe he even wore a collared shirt!

And we recently had a 51st birthday party for the Hubs. It was a Lemonhead theme because it’s his favorite candy. The orange hair, freckle face OS  was an integral part of the planning and a huge help before, during and after the event.

But true to form before the guests arrived, Ike asked the standard question. “Do I have to wear a collared shirt?” As this picture indicates, Ike got his answer.

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don't you think?

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don’t you think?

Out of all my boys, Ike is very gifted with hos- pitality. His servant’s heart has parlayed into him having a little part-time job at a nearby event venue. He’s the guy walking around with hors d’oeuvres and refilling non-alcoholic drinks. So I guess being a good host, getting kids ready for company has paid off both here and away from home. The more we do it, the better we become as both guests and faithful stewards of our home.

So what are the little things you do before you have dinner guests? Do you even dare try? It is scary! How have you prepared your kids to co-host special times at your house?

Prepare your young ones for dinner guests, it’s worth it!

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This dining room has housed many memories indeed!

This dining room has housed many memories.

When our olive shoots were small, we had little training sessions about manners.

We stressed several important things with our guys to prepare them for “company.” Now that they are 23, 18 and 16 respectively, I see the fruit of our labors. They really know how to be gracious hosts.

Here are the things we worked on:

1. Firm handshakes

2. Eye contact

3. Addressing adults by their last names.

Yes, this kid does have manners...

Yes, this kid does have manners…

To make the teaching time fun, (and I realize that the word “fun” might be a stretch), either one of my olive shoots or I would go into the hall closet. It was filled with coats and whatnot and after a second, I’d knock on the door or pretend to ring the doorbell. When the guys would “answer” the door, I would extend my hand and give them a hearty “Hello!”

From there, we practiced those aforementioned skills – often I’d invent a wildly funny last name with ample alliteration. One of my favorite last names was Mrs. Schpuhboodydootin. Oh the giggles we shared while learning the importance of addressing adults with respect. Occasionally I’d even hyphenate her name to keep things interesting.

This boy needed some teaching but that's ok!

This boy needed some teaching but that’s ok!

Let me tell you something. There isn’t anything cuter than being greeted by a little ginger boy with a strong handshake. Follow that up with a big brother who addresses you with  confidence and a middle guy asking to take your coat and welcome you into the home and shablam, there was a sweet mood in the air before the dinner even got started.

All this cost me was time and these guys were worth the investment.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me how conversational my boys were even during the awkward growing years. Those light-hearted training sessions were useful!

Controversial as it may seem, I do find the whole last-name thing ironic. We applaud our little children as they develop an ample vocabulary but we dumb them down when it comes to using an adult’s last name. People even put their kids in language classes to help them become bi-lingual but wow, ask them to use an adult’s last name and the parents instantly think it’s impossible!

That same dining room many years ago. Ike still sits in the same chair.

That same dining room many years ago. Ike still sits in the same chair.

Yes there are cultural preferences but people have told me that calling me Mrs. Cindy is a Northern thing, then others inform me that calling me Mrs. Cindy is a Southern phenomenon. I really don’t care, the standard in our home was to use an adult’s last name out of respect. We wanted to keep the bar high because it shows the preciousness of others.

As we taught our guys the fine art of cordiality, I always wanted to lift the standard. I can’t tell you how many people would say my last name was too difficult for their kids to pronounce. Really? My boys found a sense of comfort in acknowledging that they were in the midst of their elders.

This guy is now an officer in the Army!

This guy is now an officer in the Army!

Of course we had no idea one day our oldest OS would be a West Point graduate and an officer in the Army.

I know Nate appreciates the significance of rank and decorum. Maybe he learned some of that in our home training ground. Now it makes me smile when I hear people refer to him with respect and honor. A part of my heart leaps when people salute him, how can that be? He’s just a sugar boy after all.

Sugar boy/Soldier

Sugar boy/Soldier

I’d love to hear what you think about my suggestions. I realize I might have opened up a can of controversy with the whole last name thing but I want to put it out there. What are you doing to train your kids to be ready for guests?

Taa daa! Construction is complete!

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“Look at me holding a glue gun next to my very own Sears Tower!”

Tomorrow is Aaron’s party and today we finished our Sears Tower.

Aside from knowing my OS are walking with the Lord, I can think of no greater joy than seeing my boys at home in the kitchen and handily wielding a hot glue gun. I’m a simple woman, don’t ya know?

Note the skill and concentration on this guy’s face

As Aaron was attaching the last story to our very own indoor Sears Tower, I proudly announced to him, “You are going to make a very fine husband one day.” He will be quite a catch, ladies, I assure you. Martha Stewart would be so proud!

If you have a beautiful, godly daughter who likes crafts and is between 17-19 years old, feel free to send me her resume and upon approval, I will have my OS contact your daughter to schedule a wedding in a few years. I thank you in advance. Gotta run and do some more things for the big event, we’re getting ready to par-tayyyy!

Teamwork

Doing Hard Things – part two

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As many of you now know from previous posts, all my life I have been afraid to swim. The amount of toil and moil I have wasted in making sure the words of “non-swimmer” stayed on me like the world’s worst tattoo or the longest acting sunblock ev, ugh.


To be sure, there is no badge of honor or virtue attached to the title of “non-swimmer.” Your words of encouragement and support help mend that broken place I have carried too long. 

Last night as we gathered to discuss Chapters 7-8 in Doing Hard Things, I decided to share with the girls in the book study, my personal struggle with water. As suspected, everyone in the room knew how to swim but me. When they heard that I had jumped into the pool SEVEN whole times earlier this week, they giggled good-naturedly and rejoiced in my feat. As I told them how difficult it’s been for me to face this fear, the girls and my co-leaders didn’t show condemnation, instead I sensed…

grace
mercy
understanding
encouragement

flowing from their hearts. As they listened, one of the girls, bless her heart, even clapped for me. When the night ended, those girls said they would be praying for me and I believe this to be true. 

And you know what else has been incredible? 

For years I have told myself that at the very moment I enter the water, EVERYONE and I do mean EVERYONE in the entire pool or any significant body of water for that matter, stops whatever they are doing and begins to notice. Like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, adults and young children jeered at me most assuredly. The floundering limbs, exaggerated gasps for air, combined with hopelessly blanche skin all belonging to me, the voice inside convinced me that the world stopped in horror at seeing a middle aged non-swimmer mama in the water.

But you’ll never guess what I have noticed lately. Sit down for this because it’s a biggie. No one cares about me in the pool. The lifeguards are on standby but really no one else gives a whoop. I don’t look like I don’t belong because I do belong. 


A friend who regularly reads my blog, shared this with me in an email…“I think my grandmother was about 65 years old when she took swimming lessons. I remember her proudly showing us she could float. She was a pretty hefty woman at that time of her life. It is a sweet memory. If she can do it, Cindy can do it. 🙂 I also admire her for losing many, many pounds after she had a heart attack. She had always been heavy – great Southern cook with a sweet tooth. Sometime in her sixties, she started walking almost every day and dropped down to a beautiful, normal weight.”

I will be in that water!

An anchor of shame and incompetence has dashed decades of warm weather memories. I’m so over it. It is long overdue that I jump into the turquoise blue ocean of opportunities. I hope to be sharing with you another accomplishment as it pertains to my relationship with water in Mexico! Yes, Mexico

How sweet the sound

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This post is to the mentally handicapped middle school girl that I chased around in the playground many years ago.



Dear Rita, (not her real name)


I am so sorry.


I could up offer a lengthy list of flimsy excuses but honestly they don’t matter. I hurt you and that was wrong and I knew it. I deeply regret my actions. I called you mean, embarrassing names in an effort to disguise my own pain and awkwardness. I.am.sorry.


——–
As a mother, I have told my children about victorious moments when they would have been proud of me. I like to tell them about the times when I stuck up for the little guy, the weird kid or the janitor my classmates teased and threw pennies at in the cafeteria. Those stories make me look good.


But I have also confessed a few shameful times when I mocked an innocent person, betrayed a confidence, acted like a hypocrite. The incident with Rita is one of those tormenting times that I have tried to use for good while instructing my own OS. At a coffee shop last year, I told my precious middle OS about some experiences I went through in the hopes that he will never follow in some of my footsteps. It was strange to ask Aaron to forgive me for things I did before he was even born but the sweetest sounds came from his deep voice at the Caribou Coffee which is now my favorite place of redemption and caffeine. “Oh, Mama, I forgive you,” as he clutched his hand in mine.



Last night was the last meeting for Teen Community Bible Study (Teen CBS). We have spent over 30 weeks with middle and high school youth and I have had the pleasure of working with 6th-8th grade girls. We have studied God’s Word, reviewed lessons and enjoyed getting to know each other. Each one of the girls has a permanent place in my heart. Spending time with these girls made me fondly recall the girls I met while on a mission trip to Lima, Peru. Though that was several years ago, I still keep in touch with many of them. Witnessing young people grow in their faith is a privilege, seeing them burgeon into adulthood a lovely site to behold.


But is there anything harder than adolescence? Seriously! Take a good look at the corresponding picture of me if you don’t agree! I’m the one with the hexagonal glasses…;0 So much going on, inside and outside, not a moment of rest or tranquility, something always seems to be happening. If it’s not your body, it’s your feelings. If it’s not you, then it’s your family and friends! Teenager-hood is like the cruelest and most vulnerable time of life! Perhaps that’s why I have such a soft place for middle schoolers. They flutter with awkwardness and potential.


Oh how my heart ached as some of the students held the microphone and openly shared. We heard good things and triumphant discoveries about how much Jesus loves us.  A common theme was how before coming to Teen CBS, many kids were just acting like Christians, going through the motions.


We heard about ongoing struggles with depression, serious family illness, divorce and loneliness. And the room grew hushed as one girl took a deep breath and began to tell her story. She told the crowd of adults and peers how she doesn’t have very many friends. Tears streamed from her little face and she began to sob. I think I even saw a few boys getting choked up hearing and empathizing with her pain. It was deeply moving to sense that we all began looking inward pondering our own sins, pains and regrets. 


But then, mere minutes later, a girl took the microphone and without a hint of selfishness or worry about what anyone would think, she openly apologized to that girl for not treating her as she should. The two embraced and wept. The spirit of the Lord was upon this place. Grace and mercy, forgiveness and love abounded. Oh if you could have been there…

The cleansing that occurs when we confess our sins to the Lord and to others is like nothing else in this world. I am free from those chains that bound me for so long. I can admit my mistreatment of Rita because of Christ and what He has done in my life. In fact, I can tell my children and anyone in the blogosphere of my regrets because they have been forgiven. Being a teenager was brutal, hallelujah, I will never have to relive those days. Now thanks to the Lord, I am a new creation. I try to help others navigate that treacherous season of life by pointing them to Jesus.