Keller, I had a Crazy Dream

Poker-Titl.jpg (500×334)“Keller, I had a crazy dream. I dreamed we got the old poker gang back together,” Dan shared with my hubby Tim.

Don’t you just love crazy ideas?

It seemed an impossible feat. Over the last ten years the group of single thirty somethings (now forty somethings) had moved and married, divorced and proliferated, faced health challenges, job transitions and relational crisis–basically the gritty basics of life assaulting us.

My husband shook his head in disbelief, but his wide grin revealed his excitement at the possibility of reconnecting with old friends.

“Yeah, let’s do it! Tim replied.

Dan worked hard to pull the event off and surprisingly it seemed to all fall into place until the house he rented for the party flooded at the eleventh hour.

Seriously?

Opportunity or Disaster?

Just as I was walking out the door to take Kolby to an audition the call came in. “Keller, we need a place to hold the party.”

I looked at my husband and sighed. I knew the answer immediately. “Offer up your house Sam,” God nudged at my heart.

Come again? My dirty messy house. The one that overwhelms me and reminds me of my failure to balance work, kids, endless sports, ministry, and a husband who fills our house to the brim with his knack for thrifty bargain hunting.

I look around and see clumps of dog hair in the corners, textbooks and laptops everywhere, Lego’s, Emoji’s and American Girl chaos in competition for biggest disaster area. I know the toilet in the guest bathroom looks like a pack of truckers stopped by and the dishes are piled high.

And my heart aches because my house is like a snapshot of my soul–me at the end of my rope, reaching out for rescue like a small child with arms held high. Hold me Jesus. I’m struggling to wade through this wonderful, exhausting, roller-coaster life.

Choosing The Best Mess

“Let’s do it here.” I say.

“No, I’ll look at the clubhouse.” Tim pipes back.

I know my husband will fight me tooth and nail because my heart is acting cranky again and I’m supposed to be on a diet of low stress–whatever that means because I clearly suck at it.

I immediately start stuffing clutter in cabinets as if  tidiness can hide my brokenness. And then I just stop and release, “Ok God, I get it. Messy is Ok.”

My husband protests and I bark back, “Just have the party here. It makes sense. God gave us this house to bless others. Just clean up a little, please?”

My husband gives me the crazy look, but I know this crazy is the right crazy.

Letting Go

I grab my little girl and we hit the road for a two hour drive, extended by an additional thirty minutes after my GPS sends me in the wrong direction. After I quietly berate my phone, I settle down and pray, reminding myself that in the big picture relationships matter more than a clean house and being on time in LA is a suggestion.

After the audition (which my baby nailed), I call to check in with Tim who is happily hosting the party–my darling extrovert in his element.

And I feel a sense of peace and strangely enough, rest. Not because my life is anymore less chaotic but because God revealed himself to me in the center of the mess.

A Message

When we arrive home later that evening, the roar of laughter hits my ears as I open the car door in the driveway. I open the front door and am enveloped in hugs. No one cares about the floors or the toys. I see beautiful faces and I am so glad I said “Yes.”

But then I sense something more–an undercurrent of restoration. Things are happening. Strained relationships are mending. Friends who let time elapse too long bond again. The old jokes and ridiculous names they call one another are music to the soul.

I sense the bigness of what’s going on. I’m just an observer but even I know this is more than a party, it’s a redemptive offering. I can’t believe they all showed up. I can’t believe a crazy dream led to this night.

I retire early and fall asleep with the party still in full swing, snuggled up next to my little girl, content in the sounds of laughter and revelry downstairs knowing that old friends are making new memories and hearts are full. 
What crazy dream do you need to say yes to?

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Never Say Never

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I stood outside on the patio at church on a Sunday a few months ago, and vehemently stated, “I will never volunteer in kid’s ministry again.”

My eyes filled with tears as frustration coursed through my body. Now “NEVER” is a bold statement for a ministry wife who is expected to serve with a smile, but at the time I meant it. I was done. My bucket—empty!

It’s not that I don’t like munchkins—I love kids—but a bad experience with a parent got under my skin and it messed with me. A new parent not familiar with our childcare system lost his claim tag to pick up his kid. If you’ve ever been to Chuck E Cheese or Ikea you know the concept—basically you drop off the kid, get a tag, and pick up the kid with the proper check in ticket. This alleviates child abduction by a non-custodial parent and no one but you takes home your precious little angel (or monster) depending on your parenting paradigm.

Anyway the guy lost his claim tag and I very nicely asked him to get another one. I had a large class of kids and I obviously couldn’t leave them, so I pointed him in the right direction to the kiosk. He refused and then got in my face, whipped out his ID and demanded I give his kid back. Again, I calmly refused to hand over the package. So he yelled a little louder, clinched his fist and puffed up like he was going to smack me. Fortunately my fearless teenage daughter walked up at just the right moment and hustled him out of my face to help him get a new tag. Faith—you are my hero!

Somehow I managed to get all the kids back to their parents without losing my spit. Then I staggered outside and broke down in a defeated heap. How did teaching first-graders about Jesus almost turn into a beat-down of Sam?

After a few days of venting, processing and praying with my husband I remembered a few important things about the plans I make for myself and the “NEVERS” I so casually throw out:

Oh Yeah…I’m not in Control

In a perfect world we would all play along with my Sunday school agenda and everyone would play nice. The kids would put their toys away at the end of class (instead of chucking blocks at each other) and recite their Bible verse to their parents on the way home to make me look good. Oh, and those very same parents’ would thank me profusely for watching their kids for free while they got to sit in an air-conditioned church and relax. And then the unicorns would dance and we could all eat the Crispy Crèmes and stay skinny because my perfect little world doesn’t exist on this planet.

On any given Sunday, the kids are messy and squirrely and demanding. If a few listen to the lesson and learn the verse I do a happy dance. Some of the parents are chill (thank you!) but there are those who wait impatiently in line and hate the claim check process because—darn it—they have brunch to get to.

But I am not in control and honestly I don’t want to be. I believe God knows every detail and is in every detail of these Sunday morning adventures. But when I lean on my own understanding instead of surrendering to the chaos I struggle. I operate out of fear instead of faith and nose dive into anxiety.

The truth is that it’s in the messiest moments that God does his best work.  I have no idea what good was in the crazy encounter with the scary guy—but I can rest in the hope that a plan beyond my own was at work.

Your Ministry is Where the Greatest Need Is

I love it when people say they will NEVER completely surrender control to God because then he might send them to Africa to work as a missionary—so they give God 90% over and hold back the rest. I get it—it’s scary to cede over the reins for some crazy “God calling,” but that’s where I think most people have a warped idea of what ministry is. True ministry is simply identifying a pressing need in front of you and getting your butt off the sofa to help out. Ministry can be raising babies with purpose, loving a broken spouse and investing in a marriage or relationship. It can be as small as caring for a neighbor or as big as boarding a plane and taking on the social injustice God impresses on your heart. It might be Africa but it’s probably more likely something right in front of your nose.

I’ve done lots of different things in ministry—some big and some small—but right now, the need in our growing church is for helpers in children’s ministry. Ladera Ranch is the Disneyland of suburban Orange County and we have a plethora of parents that reproduce more than the average American family. So, from a church perspective that means we have more kids than most churches our size do and we need extra leaders to help guide these tiny tots to Jesus.

And if you think, “Yeah, whatever Sam, I would still Never help out with kids.” You might be surprised at what God can do with your Never.

“Never” Might Be the Opportunity You Need

Once upon a time I said I would NEVER marry a pastor. You might not know it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I didn’t want to live in a ministry fish bowl with people judging me all the time. I wrestled with God over it. Sure I loved God but it was the 90% thing holding me back. I wanted to marry a rich guy with a yacht who would hand over the credit card and sail away often, letting me raise my babies in peace. But God had a different plan. My life looks very different than what I thought it would be. It may not be fancy but it’s exactly what I need.

I have a wonderful husband who is up in my grill at all times, who simultaneously drives me crazy and makes me laugh—bringing endless joy to my life. Our love is messy and complicated and more than I could ask for or imagine. My silly NEVER was God’s BEST.

And Sunday School? I went back the next week to drop off my kid and the teacher wasn’t there so I felt compelled to step in and help. It was initially nothing more than pure obligation and a desire to do something alongside my teenage daughter who is a faithful volunteer.

Then I signed up for more because somewhere along the way my heart got ripped open wide and raw by these stinking little kids and I was hooked. Yes, they are exhausting, but these kids are also glimpses into God’s Kingdom—into an innocence and wonder we lose as life beats us up.

One of the little boys in my class has autism. He’s named after an angel and I don’t know what fairy dust he sprinkles over me but I am mush around him. This child has taught me to slow down and go easy on the transitions. When we switch rooms for worship and lessons he clings to my hand and trembles. Then I give him a gentle hand squeeze and he takes a deep breath and leans in to the scary. Somehow we get each other—I don’t like transitions either. I also have laser focus and get overwhelmed sometimes. Maybe I see myself in his eyes?

Another sweet girl has cancer and her bald head and joyful spirit are a sacred offering to the class. She is fragile and yet powerful—a six year old and who lives in the present—not the “shoulds” or “have to’s”, not the “hurry ups,”just the now. She teaches me to BE. I want to hold her and weep all at the same time and yet I see the haunting gift that God wields through this child to those around her and I am wrecked and taken to a Holy place in this classroom I said Never to.

Now I don’t EVER want to leave…

What are the NEVERS You need to lean into?

The Jankiest Hood

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Maybe it’s just me?–but when I see a home festively adorned with Christmas lights near Valentines Day, the word “janky” comes to mind.

Well, how about a whole neighborhood?  Is that like the “jankiest hood in town?”

Because that’s what I, what WE, the suffering people of Whispering Creek II are dealing with.

First of all, I LOVE our neighborhood!  We are what some might call a tad “eager” around Christmas time.

For the most part, we get our Christmas spirit on!  Our track sits right across the street from one of the more famous drive-by Christmas neighborhoods in Ladera, (just to clarify…that’s not a place where drive-by shootings occur, but instead it’s when you pack up the whole family in the car with some Starbucks and drive around and look at decorated homes. Because this is what we do in warm places with no weather)

So, although we don’t have the mega awesome light displays and hand out hot chocolate and fliers, we are “a nice on the eyes” place to go for a “look see.”

The majority of our homes put up lights galore, inflatable snowman, reindeer, animals and all the elf fixins.

I even have an inflatable Darth Vader and two Frosty’s, not to brag or anything…

Normally, as a group we rent a lift, blast some music and decorate together.  But this year, we decided to try something new and hire a service to put up and TAKE DOWN the lights.

Mistake #1: we paid the man upfront for the whole job.

The lights went up in late November.  And the lights are still up.

The light man has gone AWOL. With half of our entire neighborhood’s cash.

He has not returned phone calls or texts and we are SOL, as my dad used to say. All we have is a card. With no address. Who do we even sue?

So when you drive into our little Ladera neighborhood, try not to judge.  We know. We know. We so freaking know it’s the jankiest in town, but we haven’t yet figured out how to rectify the problem.

Do we send our husbands up to the roofs and high peaks of our two story homes? Do we risk life and limb or suck up the loss and pay more money? Do I send out my husband, because we own a coveted extension ladder, and make some extra cash? (just kidding babe)

Is our life insurance up to date?

These are questions we must ask ourselves!

In the meantime…James the Christmas Light Dude.  You are a wanted man and have lost the favor of this Ladera neighborhood!  At any moment, our ever vigilant Ladera association will start threatening us with fines if we don’t get these lights down…because Ladera has standards.

Merry Christmas James. You stink!

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At least we put these guys away…

 

How to be an Obnoxious Parent

I wrote this post five years ago and it feels like it needs to be updated.  Because maybe you don’t know how awesome my kids are now in 2015?

Random person-“Wow, your baby is really smart (pretty, adorable…amazing)!”

Me-“I know, right?”

Am I really that obnoxious parent who unashamedly brags on her kids?

Yep. I am. I can’t stop myself. I hear the words slipping out and I want to grab them back, whip out my lasso and coral them in, but it’s too late. Once again, I have over-shared regarding my kid’s total awesomeness.

(2010) Have I told you about Kyle?  We call him six-pack in training, our movie-star handsome, 4.0 GPA, nationally ranked football player, stud pitcher, kindergarten volunteering, gentle, loving, Godly, ridiculously humorous almost thirteen year old son?

lu7a0170Five years later…

(2015) Kyle is a 17 yr old senior in high school at J Serra.  He still loves football–although he is now a linebacker, fullback and tight end, instead of a center. He is in the process of getting recruited for college ball–more on that to come soon. He is a captain of his football team, still movie-star handsome, a good student, not playing baseball now and thinking of playing a little lacrosse in the spring?  He has no girlfriend (heck yeah!), is still soooo funny, even-tempered, hard-working, and is a county music, Jesus loving boy.  He’s building houses in Peru next spring, driving our old gas guzzling Ford truck around, and enjoying every minute of his friends and youth. Strangely enough, he is now violently allergic to his favorite food–sushi?  Suckaroo!  Kyle loves the beach, working out and snowboarding. If he’s not at football practice he is usually hanging out somewhere with Brad and Kelly.

(2010) What about my little beauty Faith? Let me tell you about my sweetheart girl who dances like a fairy, cheers like a maniac, is smart, fun-loving, a talented actress(recently starred in Peter Pan as the Indian Grizzly Bear), is a great big-sis, and leads worship with gusto? Did I mention she is shooting a spec commercial for the Vizio tablet this weekend?

(2015)  Faith is a freshman at J Serra and joins the Lions with her brother.  She is a JV cheerleader and is on the yearbook staff.  She is artistic, fashion-minded and dedicated.  She works hard in the classroom and wants to pursue photography as a career. Faith loves Campus Ministry–mainly because the worship director is “so beautiful mom,” which I totally get, because I think pastor’s are hot too!  Faith’s personality is mostly sunshine with a few storm clouds thrown in for good measure.  She is extroverted to the extreme and so beautiful, inside and out.

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(2010) How about the Kolbster?  Baby Kolby is so freaking cute! She is months beyond her year, crazy clever, reads letters, knows every animal sound (including “hop” for bunny because I don’t know what the heck the bunny says), has killer hair, and talks incessantly about her big brother.

I just love Duck Chili mommy!

(2015)  Yep, Kolby still has killer hair.  I think we are all a little jealous.  Kolby is in kindergarten now–a real big girl–and the joy of our lives. She is clever and silly and smart as a whip.  Kolby plays soccer, does ballet and cheerleading, and is a part of a Daisy Troop.  She still loves her bro Kyle but talks about other boys now too (gasp!) On any given afternoon she rolls with the Claymont Street girls gang of blond beauties. She loves to color, play with Shopkins, read books with mama and play Barbies.  Kisses from Kolby are magical and her snuggles have true healing power.
KolbyK_selects_017I know. I know. Someone stop me from bragging. I have diarrhea of the pompous mouth when it comes to my munchkins. But, I’m guessing most parents feel thisway. They love their kids so, so, so much, they simply can’t help themselves.

But in my defense, even God brags on his boy a bit. “Have you seen my son Job?” he tells Lucifer. “He’s a total stud, blameless, upright and courageous.” (Slightly modified by Sam from Job 1:8)

Sounds like some swagger wagon to me…

So maybe my crazy love for my kids is annoying, boastful, and even bombastic.

But maybe it’s also… sort of a God thing.

Why Dodge Ball Matters

dodgeball-blog-jpg_180529_zps6e2f5270A ball whizzed by my nose. I squealed and jumped out of the way protecting the tiny infant in my arms from the rocking Dodge ball game on my neighbor’s lawn.

Holding my neighbor’s baby in the middle of a pint sized ball war wasn’t safe but it sure was fun.

As both our families fought to gain control of the ball and escape the pounding of hard rubber, my daughter Faith mentions how much fun it is to play the “real” game instead of the watered down version she was forced to play in school.

“What game did you play in Jr. High instead of Dodge ball?” my neighbor and good friend asks.

“Evasion ball.” Faith replied.

(My friend and I subtly give each other the WTF look…)

What’s Evasion Ball?

“It’s like Dodge ball but no one gets out.  Once you get hit you become a goalie.”

We look at each other in disbelief.

Let’s get this straight.

No one gets out.  No one faces the wrath of the ball or the pain of getting picked last.  Everyone wins and no one loses.

Now I certainly don’t like adversity or suffering, no one does at the time, but there are certain rites of passage that help us move into maturity and grow up.  Mastering the rules of the playground and how to survive helps a child navigate the ups and downs of life.

Who doesn’t remember the thump of the red ball on the face?

Why, why, why are we teaching our kids to “evade” reality?

kwdEe4TBy taking away the trials and avoiding the struggles we are raising a generation of kids unprepared for the harsh realities of the world.  When we remove loss and pain and disappointment from our children’s lives we also remove the ability to cope with loss and pain and disappointment.  And when those painful emotions inevitably hit, our kids (overwhelmed and unequipped) turn to drugs and sex and unhealthy self-soothing methods because they can’t process losing and sadness.

As a mom with a senior in high school. One of the recurring themes I hear over and over from colleges is that kids today are not “emotionally prepared” to handle life on their own. 

Well-meaning mama’s, you are not doing your kids any favor by doing all their laundry, dishes and chores.  Stop paying for their speeding tickets, stop doing their homework, and stop rescuing them when they get in trouble.

Be with them when they get their hearts broken.  Don’t call the parent and do an intervention.  Take them to a movie and buy them an ice-cream cone and help them process not avoid the pain.

Ground them when they come in late.  Have the balls to say “no” occasionally.  Also, have the balls to say “yes” even more than “no” and let them screw things up.  It’s far better to let them make a few mistakes under your roof than get hauled off to jail later.

I hear the martyr mom’s brag about their devotion and how spoiled their kids are—as if the mama’s who actually train their kid’s to function as future adults don’t love their kids as much as they do.  I say baloney!

Have we forgotten the goal is to LAUNCH these kids—not enable them to live on our income or sofa?

So I am raising the gauntlet…

Let’s teach our kids how to rebound and get back up after they get smacked by a ball.  Let’s let them suffer a little. (I am not advocating child abuse here, just natural consequences)

Let’s make our kids work for the trophy and for grades and even for relationships. Nothing good ever bloomed from apathy.

A long long time ago in grade school, I got punched by a bully, who then ran away and hid after I smacked him back. It was both traumatic and empowering. Was I scared? Heck yeah!  I cried as I fought back, but, he never messed me with again. Maybe he even respected me?  Gasp!  Thirty-five years later we are friends on Facebook.  That’s the dance of life.  It’s about confrontation and resolution, not evasion.

Sometimes getting whacked by the ball stings.  It hurts our pride and makes us cry.  But finding the courage to get back in the game and play says far more about our kid’s character than avoiding the game altogether.

I think Dodge Ball matters.  Bamm.

—Samantha

Into the Hole of Stage Parent Shame

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Over the tips of skyscrapers and a slight OC haze, little Kolby spots the artificial snow of Matterhorn Mountain, “Mommy, is that Disneyland?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” I reply.

“Mommy, I need, I want, I muuuuuust to go to Disneyland. I’m the only kid in the world who’s never been.”

I look in the rearview mirror at her peaked little face and feel a minor prick of guilt. For a year, I took her older siblings (who are now teens) to the happiest place on earth every single stinking weekend with our mega access passes—which is why I now avoid the place like the plague.

(And just for the record, the measles outbreak gave me another good reason to put it off)

Kolby’s bow shaped mouth turns downward and then tightens into a pout. I tread lightly with my response because she’s not feeling well and EVERYTHING is irritating her.

I think hard. We are on our way up to an audition in LA for a commercial for a kids shoe company. I am doing pulling out every trick in my wheelhouse to transform a grumpy and feverish five-year-old into a friendly and outgoing kid actor/model.

But my lullabies and packed cooler full of organic Cheetos and chocolate almond milk are not cutting it in light of her Mickey Mouse depletion.

“Baby, let’s try and book a job this summer and then maybe we can go to Disneyland. It’s pretty expensive.”

Kolby nods. “Ok, I just have to be happy at the audition, right?”

“Yep, just do your best darling.”

The car goes silent. She leans back in her car seat and closes her eyes. The rest of the drive we play “I Spy” and find letters on license plates.

We drive into West Hollywood and I navigate through the crowded roads to the casting agency. Of course there’s no parking—because I always wanted to make a sick child walk a mile to wait in a crowded room for another hour.

I spot a Starbucks and we head around the corner to prep. Inside the store bathroom I change her into a little white floral dress and brush out her long golden locks. On top of her head I gently place a flower crown and sigh with delight.

Her attitude might be a wee bit sour but she looks like a dream.

I grab a drink and we head back over to the audition.

It’s the usual scene—about 50 kids with nannies and handlers and clueless grandpas juggling headshots, iPads and combs. Kolby starts talking with another little girl and I make a mental note of the room.

They are lining up the kids down a hallway. Some go in with parents and some without.   When Kolby’s name is called the lady in charge says the casting agents want to see the kids alone.

What? ALONE?

Many bad words come to mind.

Kolby’s eyes grow big and teary. She grabs my leg.

“I don’t want to go in there alone, mommy.” Big tears threaten to slide down her face.

She sets off the other kids in line.

It’s a group MELTDOWN worthy of an Oscar.

Now no one wants to go in alone. The lady glares at me.

The door opens and I grab little Kolby’s hand and push past her.

We walk into a mini American Idol type setting. There are three scowling casting directors behind a table. A hip but harried photographer motions for her to stand in front of a backdrop.

I give her a little encouraging pat and she walks over.

“What’s your name?” the lumber-sexual photographer inquires.

(Oh great, he’s got a beard. My kid is terrified of men with beards)

My little lamb looks at the ground and whispers, “Kolby.”

“Kolby, can you smile for me. I’m going to take a few pictures.”

And my dear child who is generally my biggest ham forces a pained grin that looks far more like disgust than joy.

I want to crawl in a hole.

“Can you give me a big smile?” he cajoles.

Kolby tries again. Now she looks constipated.

“Can you jump?” he asks.

Kolby looks at him and lets out an exaggerated sigh. Her body language screams, I don’t feel well and my mommy dragged me here and now you want me to freaking jump.

I can see the future teenager seed rooting.

She gives a half-hearted leap.

I crawl deeper into the hole of stage-parent shame.

The photographer grabs the shoes and asks her to try them on. She slips them onto her feet.

“Do you like the shoes?”

Kolby pauses. “Not really, they are too big.”

Her tone is pure annoyance.

The casting elite illuminati give me the look—the “You’re wasting our time look and I grab her hand and we shuffle out.”

She smiles the second we leave,

“How did I do Mommy? Can I go to Disneyland now?”

“No baby, I said we needed to book the job first remember? Anyway, you weren’t very friendly sweetheart.

And my five year-old turns on me and yells loudly down the street, “Other kids don’t have to get a job and go to work to go to Disneyland. Anyway, you told me not to talk to strangers and they were scary!”

And I am left both ashamed and stumped at her pre-school logic.

The two buff men heading into the gym in front of us choke up and try not to laugh, but I can hear their snickers and eyes on me as I duck into the car.

And I know it’s one of those mom moments. Make it or break it time.

I feel pulled between caring for my kid’s emotional wellbeing and teaching life lessons to a small person who may not have the ability to hear me in this moment.

How do I explain to my kid that I’m trying to fund her college tuition with her ridiculous cuteness? How do I teach her the value of a hard work ethic and the beauty of delayed gratification as she saves towards a goal? And most of all, how do I teach her to do hard things even when she feels like quitting?

And I realize while those are all things I want to teach her, this is NOT that moment.

I pick her up and cuddle her. “Today was tough. I’m proud of you for trying even though you were sick. Next time if you smile and act friendly even when you are scared mommy will give you $5 to save for Disney.”

I think some more.

“And if mommy introduces you to the person, then they aren’t strangers and it’s ok to be nice.”

She puts her little arms around me and we both sniffle and cling to one another.

Over the next few weeks Kolby works hard on introductions. She learns to say, “Nice to meet you” and hold out her hand for a firm shake.

She practices smiling and posing. We play the casting director game and take turns asking questions.

A month later Kolby books her first modeling gig.

When I share the news with her she screams, “I can’t believe it! Mommy, we are going to Disneyland!”

And I am humbled. The lesson I tried to force she learned all on her own.

This time I will be proud to wear the Mickey ears because I know how hard we both worked to get them.

 

How do I explain this Crazy to my Kids??

My friend is at the airport on her way to Hawaii.  Her family is pumped because they are heading to the Disney Island Resort of Mickey awesomeness.

But, six hours is a long time with three kids on a plane, so she herds her adorable brood of blond tots to the potty for one last go.

And this is what she encounters…

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Text from Friend: “How do I explain this to my kids?”

I won’t treat you to the text I wrote back because it’s politically incorrect.

But I will say this.  Be very careful near airports!

There are apparently uniboob half-skirted creatures walking around with surly expressions and no one can stop them from making weird faces and peeing in this airport bathroom because the government says you can pick your gender and expression.

I must confess some confusion over the peeing part.  If you are a dude and you get a sex change, do you lose or keep the unit?  Some do and some don’t right?

(In all honesty, my parent’s wouldn’t let me see the “Crying Game” which I’m sure would have explained some of this.

Do they have fake vajayjay’s?  And how do the doctors re-pipe?  Anatomy didn’t cover this and I’m afraid to Google it on my work computer.  It’s like Jr. High again.  I laughed with all the other kids about the “69” graffiti on the wall but I didn’t actually know what it meant until college.

So how do mommies and daddies explain trans-gender to the kids when we are clueless too?

I know there are a few TV shows on the Family Channel now to help us make sense of our changing culture–“I am Cait” and “Help..my dad is turning into a woman.”  But, strangely enough, I haven’t found compelled to watch.

So, here’s what I’m telling my kids.

Mommy doesn’t personally understand the motives to move towards trans-gender, but she does understand brokenness and its ramifications.  She know sadness and loneliness and the extreme measures people will go to find the elusive happiness that eludes them.

Your purpose and meaning go far beyond your sexuality.  Your identity is not in your maleness or femaleness or even in ambiguity.

Your identity is in Christ alone.  But  culture is sending a very different message to you.

The world says we can choose our identity by choosing our gender.  Mommy disagrees.  

Male and female God created them.  In God’s image.  We are all a reflection of our creator.

Our identity is in CHRIST ALONE.

I believe Trans-gender is throwing us all for a loop but it doesn’t have too.

It’s pretty simple.  Our job is to love God and love our neighbor.  And yes, that means the trans-gender neighbor-even if it’s awkward and confusing.

The truth is we are all in some type of bondage to the lies of culture.  Some of us just wear the chains on the outside and it’s more obvious.  I too have bought into the lies of sex, beauty and materialism equaling my worth.  Only a belief in something bigger can deliver us.

Trans-gender is complicated and messy and its’ really hard to explain to kids. But it’s a conversation we all need to initiate because it’s not going away. 

I hope you wrestle with this dialogue too.  Let me know what you think and how you are explaining it.

 

–Samantha

And please, I’m cool if you disagree but keep it clean. Only grown-up comments please.

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 42

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Truth–every time Taylor Swift’s song “22” comes on, I crank up my radio, sway in my seat, drive a little faster and sing along with gusto.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22 42.”

Yep, I change the words…mainly because it rhymes, it’s fun and I’m 42. Except now I’m not 42–today’s my birthday, now I’m 43.

I guess I need a new song.

My son gives me a card this morning and it says “Happy 29th for the 15th time!”   It’s supposed to be funny, but I secretly wince.  How come 29 + 15 sounds old too?

So here are my thoughts on 43…

1.  It SOUNDS worse than it is.  It’s actually not that bad.  Last week, I traveled with my son.  He looks far older than his 16 years–probably about 20ish.  I could pass on a good day for mid to late 30’s.  After, multiple days of people assuming we were a couple, I felt like a total perv, I told my son I was getting a t-shirt that says, “I’m the mom (not a cougar)”

2. Ok, I do miss the energy of youth (and maybe my perkier parts)…but that’s about it.  A few wrinkles seems a small price to pay for all the benefits of maturity.

3.  I have time now to enjoy my life.  When the big kids were small, when I was a single working mom, when we started the church and I was trying to get my writing going…all I did was hustle, hustle, hustle.  There was constant rushing and scrambling.  Now–I can relax a little bit and appreciate all those years of wiping snotty noses and working late.

4.  I treasure the wisdom I’ve gained over the years.  You couldn’t pay me to go back to my twenties.  All the emotions and turmoil of youth fade in light of parenting all the emotions and turmoil of my own teens.

5.  I’m getting way more nostalgic.  I used to set goals for myself for every birthday.  Each year was a litmus test of  accomplishments–the great grading scale of the American Dream.  Graduate college. Get married by 25.  Have babies by 30.  Finish masters degree.  Start church.  Develop ministry.  Blog.  Write book by 40. Start women’s ministry. Run marathon.

Boy have things changed…

I forgot to include divorce, and career change and loss–and all the tragedy and circumstances that mold and shape us into people of depth and character.  I never finished my graduate degree and I never ran that marathon, and truthfully, I could care less.

My yearly round-up is much simpler now.

I thank God I get to crawl into a toddler bed every night with my little girl and read her favorite books and growl and do all the voices of her favorite monsters and animals.  I thank God for letting me go back East last week on an Ivy League football recruiting trip with my son.  I will never forget laughing our butts off on the mountain roads of Vermont as we almost floated away in a hurricane in a rental car.  I thank God for my lovely daughter Faith who will be a cheerleader next year in high school (just like her mama) and has the sweetest most loving spirit in the world.  I thank God for my second marriage to a beautiful man, for the glorious redemption of having a family again and the ability to write and do what I love.  I look at the people around me and pinch myself for the blessing of friends and neighbors and family.

I guess 43 is filled with perspective.

Here’s mine–Each day is a gift.  

Fortunately, Taylor Swift is now 23–maybe we can get a new rhyme for 43?

What’s your perspective on middle age?

 

A Dad’s Best Investment

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About a year ago my husband Tim came home from a soccer meeting bubbling over with plans to join an Adventure Princess tribe with our youngest daughter Kolby.

(FYI…Adventure Princess used to be known as Indian Princess, but apparently “Indian” is politically incorrect now)

All I know is that it’s a daddy daughter group that includes games, monthly meetings, harbor cruises, camping and money invested in the process of all these grand adventures.

I confess I was INITIALLY excited for them, until I saw the schedule of trips and the fees—then a part of me felt slightly resistant and maybe a little jealous.

Where’s my eight trips a year?  Can I spend the same amount of money bonding with our other kids?  Faith and I like to shop—just saying.

So my husband embarks on this new endeavor with Kolby and they join the “Wolfpack” circle.  The first meeting they return home with purple sweatshirts and patches, crafts and fringed vests.  Kolby acquires the ability to howl and Tim seems to truly enjoy time with the other wolf dudes.

Kolby is now known as “Sparkling Unicorn Princess” and Tim is “SOARING FALCON.”

They camp, they bond and I take it all in—mildly skeptical.

It doesn’t help that a friend tells me some gossipy things about the Ladera dads and their excuse to get away and party after the kids go to sleep.  In general, I try not to listen to second-hand-info, but because it’s a group I’m NOT invited to, the juicy tidbits create a little more distrust in my spirit.

I grill my husband when he returns from his first trip but he assures me all is well.

Hmmmmm…

Unfortunately, halfway through the year my husband has emergency spine surgery and the Wolfpack activity is put on hold until daddy recovers.

And now it’s June, and the last meeting of the year. But Tim is out of town on a football trip with my son Kyle, so the pack leader suggests I bring little Kolby to the meeting.

Come again?

The Wolf Dudes want me to bring my five-year-old girl to a pool party meeting with men?

Now I’m really feeling VERY AWKWARD but my baby girl wants to go so I acquiesce.  I bring Faith with me as backup and a good book.  I wear a modest bathing suit and put on my pastor’s wife game face–the “no funny business” one.

I show up at the pool leery.  I have visions of Animal House with the little girls in a corner doings crafts while the dad’s deal cards.

But to my surprise, the first thing I see is a big jolly guy with a huge smile in a neon orange shirt schlepping water toys down to the pool with two adorable little girls.

He introduces himself as the leader and invites me to join them.  This man is like Santa—he’s so good-natured and affable.  The girls run shrieking for the pool and the leader guy jumps in and plays water games with ten little girls attached to him for the next hour.  The other dads stand around quietly talking and catching up.

There is no alcohol.  No crazy stuff.  No strippers.  Just pizza and maybe a little too much sugar with the brownies, juice and otter pops—but that’s the extent of the shenanigans.

After the pool games wrap up, the men and girls gather in a circle and each child introduces herself and her dad and they share a small story.  It’s hard for some kids, but the dad’s encourage and guide them.  I help Kolby and although she is the youngest in the group she is brave and speaks up in a small sweet voice.

Then the girls run off and play—jacked up on sugar—and the dad’s talk “ADULT BUSINESS.”

“OK.  Now it’s coming, I think.  I tense up.  This is the juicy stuff my neighbor warned me of.

Except what happens next is the dad’s get serious about planning the next camping trip.  They talk food and grills and the architecture of sailboats and sandcastles.

And I am left in my seat for a very long hour—both humbled and ashamed—as I watch these kind good men take the time to invest in their daughters and create lasting memories.  

Yes-these man boys are a little competitive and some of the wild stories of paddle board races and stormy nights scare me because of my over-protective mama bear tendencies—but I also know that a little rough and tumble adventure with a dad is what every little girl needs to feel loved and cherished and empowered to believe she can make it in the world all on her own.

I sit in my seat and pray—and ask God to forgive me for judging that which I have no understanding of.  I confess how easy it is to listen to the “bad things” instead of “believing the best” about people.  And a tear runs down my face as I think about my husband and his desire to father and love our children to the best of his ability.

Boy, I can be a real schmuck sometimes—God help me!

Kolby and I Face Timed Daddy that evening night and told him about the meeting.  I apologized for my doubts.  Of coarse, my sweet husband forgave me and I could see his relief that I was now a supporter instead of a skeptic.

Ok, so I was wrong.  (BIG GULP)

The Wolfpack rocks.  And today my husband is camping with our little girl while I write this.  On the sand, with a hurt back–probably dirty and cold.  And those two monkeys are probably loving every minute of it.

As Father’s Day approaches, and I desperately miss my own dad in heaven now, I think about how important the love of a father is.

I think about my own distrust towards men and how is husband is changing my heart AND MY DAUGHTERS one deposit of love at a time.

And I am grateful.

–Samantha

What could you do to create lasting memories with your child?

How to Get Your Teen To Do Hard Stuff

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This might sound a little unconventional–but hear me out.

After three years of begging and pleading and threatening–we have finally found the key to behavior modification with our kid.

Five bucks a day.

Yep, five bucks a day–that’s what it takes to change a habit in my teenage son.

Every day he does the thing I want him to do–which is stretch his hips–and I reward him.

So why the money?

Because, quite frankly, NOTHING else was working.

My son, as many of you know, is an elite athlete.  And don’t get me wrong, Kyle is fast, but he could be even faster.  Even a tiny gain (2/10 of a second) can mean a big deal in football.  Speed equals explosiveness and open hips give him the the ability to change directions fast.  As a linebacker it’s crucial.

It also means less injuries, because a flexible person is bendy and when they get hit hard–they bend.

But Kyle could not, would not be forced into doing anything.  This is what they call a TEENAGER.  And it’s so fun as a parent trying to work with a belligerent donkey.

We were stumped…

A few weeks ago, my husband heard the author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, at a church conference talking about the formation of new habits.  He came home with the book and the information excited to try it out.

So we gamely played along and let Kyle be our first case study in the Keller home.

According to Duhigg, the key to habit change is to:

1. Make it easy to do the thing (for example, set out the yoga mat for him to stretch the night before)

2. Have an instant positive reward ($5 deposit into his high school checking)

Truthfully, Tim and I were doubtful.  Kyle already burns the midnight oil and trains relentlessly along with studying into the wee hours of the night.  It was just “one more thing” we were harping on him to do.  He already stretches every day and now we were asking him to do more.

Kyle, like all of us, wants to have good habits.  His intent is good but he just needed a kick in the pants and a reason that didn’t suck to go above and beyond the ordinary.

I’m here to give the praise of Mr. Duhigg, because his system worked.

Every day our kid gets up 15 minutes early and stretches.  And every day I deposit the money in his bank account.

For all those parents thinking I don’t have an extra $150 to give my kid a month, the reward doesn’t have to be financial.  It just has to be something small and easy to give immediately.

For my five year old it could be reading her favorite book for the hundredth time for five minutes or playing Barbies.

But for us and with this kid, the money made sense. Now that our son can drive, we probably spend that amount on him anyway because he’s always asking for money for gas or to hit Starbucks and Chick-Filet.

According to Duhigg, the best habit changers in the study group were were runners who allowed themselves a small piece of chocolate after each run.  It was an immediate and tangible reward. And for those people who love chocolate…very effective!

The people who wanted to gain a running habit laid out their running shoes the night before and rewarded themselves immediately after.

And presto…new habit formed.

I for one, can’t wait to see all the things we can accomplish with our kids as we put this system to work.

And honestly, I also can’t wait to see all the things I accomplish, because sometimes, I need a kick in the pants too!

(And a little glass of a good Cabernet or a tasty chocolate sounds like a lovely reward to me)

–Samantha

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