Monday, August 22, 2011

step by step

I've been walking through daydreams lately that are more like those awful nightmares when you dream of showing up for the first day of school, only to discover you are naked. I've been tossing and turning, wide awake, going through ideas, and possibilities, and fears, while my husband, sleeping beside me, wakes to his own fears of our son struggling at his new school.

It's a time of transition for our family, and we tend to do them on a big scale. I remember being in seminary, newly married, and moving to a new city for two new jobs and a new home, while trying to juggle coursework for classes 3 hours away. The next year brought job promotions, a new house, graduation, and ordination. Then came the children, in quick succession, after adjusting to a couple of dogs, and then a new house. Now, eight years later, John and I are each adjusting to new jobs while we anticipate our son's first day of kindergarten, and our daughter's entry into a new (to her) preschool. You would think we would be used to it by now!

Who really enjoys change? Although I've been dreaming of it, anticipating it, praying for it (Dear God in heaven, PLEASE!!), the reality of it is staggering. It's leaving the comfort and security (the apathy and laziness?), the familiarity (the safety?), and facing the fear (can I? will I?). It's stepping out in faith or bravado, innocence or ignorance; it's facing a future that isn't written by me, but by God. The big transitions in my life are never my own plans. No, my plans are meek and small and static. God, however, enjoys shaking me up, and filling me with a passion that knows no bounds. It isn't comfortable or easy or predictable, but it is sustaining and exhilarating, and full of love.

It's a lesson in letting go of control, which is a constant battle for me. The battle will be even more fierce when I have to surrender control of my sweet boy's life as he goes off into the bigger world of school. I worry about his acceptance, and who will be his friends, and if he can learn to lead as much as he follows. I don't worry about his skills or competence or academics, but I worry about his heart and the quality of what his quick mind takes in. How will he find his way (figuratively, not literally...well, maybe a bit of that, too)? I know this transition will be good for all of us, but what will be the cost as we begin the life-long process of separation?

It all comes down to faith, and faith, I'm learning, isn't something that you ever just have. I'm always growing in faith, slowly, incrementally, through each new change. Each experience brings more faith, just enough to guide me to that next step. Through the process I will always have enough, if I can just let go and trust in the God that has placed each step before me. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holding their dreams for them

I work at a place called HopeTree, which ironically, is a residential group home for those whom many would consider hopeless.  When I lead chapel services, my goal is primarily to share God's love and grace for them, letting them know that life can be radically different.  Although they come to us hurt, scarred (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), neglected, and angry, I want them to know that this doesn't always have to be their reality.  God has a better plan for them if they can only find the hope to go after God's dreams for them.  So many of them appear to have already given up at age 15, and after hearing their stories, I don't blame them.  But I am scared for them in their unknown and dark futures, alone, and only pretending to be tough on the outside when they are falling apart on the inside.

This past Sunday, I read a children's book entitled If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade.

In the story, a bird has to decide whether to leave the comfort and security of her cozy nest and try to fly.  She is afraid of failing or of getting lost, but she is also afraid of missing out on discovering new skills, places and friends.  It's a lovely book with a good message for all of us.

After reading the story, we discussed our own fears and what flying would mean for us, then I asked the teens to make a collage of what their dreams would look like if they choose to fly away (at the right time!) from the HopeTree.  They seemed to enjoy the assignment and set to work quickly.  After a little while, one guy told me he was done and showed me his result.  He had found pictures of a boxer and a guitar and shared that he would like to learn to box as a hobby while becoming a musician (a skill that he's currently working on).  I complimented him on his work and dream and he asked what he should do with his collage.  I told him he could keep it in his room as a reminder, but he said, "No, will you hang onto it for me?"  I promised I would put it on my office wall, and that's when it hit me...that's what we do here.

We are the dream holders.  We carry the hopes and dreams of our youth when they are too scared to do it themselves.  We carry them through the darkness, promising the light ahead.  We learn that they won't accept our answers or our truths, but I'm starting to see that when we accept their truths and understand the meaning behind their answers, we can see the faint dreams that linger beyond the hurt.  If we can carry them through in the short time we have, perhaps those dreams can be born in another time when they have begun to heal and to open to the love and truth we planted within them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't judge me

Please don't judge me, although I deserve it.  I should have learned from experience last year at Brady's preschool open house.  As we parked our car among the many Lexus SUVs, and added our homemade pasta salad to the gourmet picnic spread, I felt a little out of place.  When I tried to join in the conversation of parents who were either professors at the university across the street or were able to be stay at home moms due to a husband's lucrative job, I felt displaced.  And yet, when my sweet boy, oblivious to all the fears and doubts and comparisons that plague me, ran off to meet new friends and find his place, I knew all would be well.  And it has been.  He thrived in a welcoming yet challenging environment.  He entered as a shy follower and emerged as an independent and occasional leader (particularly to his sister, whom he reminds that she needs to learn to put on her own shoes and unpack her own lunch).  He became a big fan of rules, and schedules, and routines, which we had worried about.  He taught himself to read (with lots of support and encouragement), then set new goals for himself.  The school prides itself on creativity and learner-led curriculum.  It is a peaceable school that successfully initiates collaboration between classes and among all age groups.  We started to feel at home.

But we knew it wasn't going to last.  It is a private school, which we can't afford for two kids.  Part of me feels a little elitist and uncomfortable at the thought of private school anyhow.  One of my arguments for buying our current house was that we would be in a relatively good county school system.  But that was before.  This is now.  Today, I sent my precociously bright and creative (and have I mentioned sensitive) son off to kindergarten orientation at his new elementary school.  And I found myself judging...on the other side of the fence.  I'm not proud of it, and I tried not to even speak my concerns, but my husband seemed to know from the look in my eye.  So you might as well see the darkness within me.

-Some school staff, including teachers, were wearing flip flops and tank tops.  I know that means nothing, but now I can understand why my employer stresses our dress code so much.  It does send a message, and not always the one we want to send.  When you're facing worried parents, professionalism helps.

-While they were harping on the school's "wellness program" they mentioned their healthy lunches.  Looking at the menu, I saw chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and some variety of potato for almost every meal.  This was backed up by their PE program, which is facilitated at least 2 or 3 times every two weeks.  (his preschool emphasized free play outside at least 2 times a day and we had to sign a covenant promising to pack a healthy snack and lunch each day as well as emphasizing healthy habits at home).

-Due to standardized testing, we were warned that Kindergarten is not what it used to be and a lot is demanded of our children.  While Brady is bright, I worry that he will lose the joy of learning.  He already knows much of what they said he will learn this will he be able to find his place and be challenged?
 (his former school did not have grades, standardized tests, or homework, but was led by students' goals, a flexible curriculum that met the changing needs and interests of the class, and valued a family's time together)

-I lost count of the number of kids in his class, then looked over and saw 7 remaining name tags of the kids who were absent (I was contacted by his former school, which Maryn will be attending, to ask my permission to raise her class size from 7 to 8).

We are entering a different world, and I'm sure my struggles come from my perceived (or actual) lack of control.  He will be gone all day and I will have little awareness of how his time is spent (although I was assured I could check online to see how his lunch money was if that's really my big concern).  I will probably not get to read three-days-a-week blog entries from my son's teacher as I have become used to, or visit often and get to know his friends and classmates.  While parents seem welcome in the school, they're not as dependent on parental help as his small "community" school was.  I barely even caught his teacher's name today, and know nothing about her although she looked as nervous as I felt.  Perhaps that should give me greater compassion instead of fear.

But then he ran off to join his new classmates, without even a look back, as is his style.  I came back early to catch him running freely and with excitement on the playground.  He told me little about his morning, noting the library was his favorite part of the school and that he got to ride a bus around the parking lot.  His sister asked, "Did you sit in a seat next to your best friend?" and he answered, "I don't have any friends there...yet," with all the confidence a 5-year-old can muster.  Maryn answered, "Well, I'm your friend, and I want to go to kindergarten, too!"

I have so much to learn from these sweet kids...