Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Who needs a therapist?

Anyone who's ever been a teacher knows that feeling when you look out at your students with about six weeks of school left and think, "I'm never going to make it." Spring has arrived in full force, your students are getting antsy, and you have (smack) hit the wall.

That's where I've been at this week...wondering how I'll ever be disciplined enough to finish the rest of our lessons and why I ever thought this was a good idea in the first place. Then, to add icing on the cake, my 9-year-old informed me the other day that he couldn't see any possible purpose for school.

"Why do we even need it?" he asked.

I tried to explain by helping him imagine what his life would be like in the future if he didn't continue his education. I painted a bleak picture where everyone would look down on him for being dumb and he would starve to death due to the lack of funds with which to buy food. His response?

"I'll just ride my bike somewhere and eat plants."

When pressed about which plants specifically he planned to eat, he said pineapples.

"Pineapples don't grow around here," I said.

"Then I'll move to Hawaii."

Good luck riding your bike all the way to Hawaii, buddy.

Anyway, it's safe to say for the past few days I've been getting up in the morning with a certain amount of dread. Apparently, this has been evident on my face because for the past three mornings, my sweet little (now) 3-year-old has watched me making breakfast and has asked, "Are you happy, mommy?"

What an interesting question. Profound, really. Her question has given me a whole new perspective on not only how much my attitude affects those around me, but also how little I consider the idea of happiness. As a result, I've been forced to think about all the things I have to be happy about. Turns out there are gazillions, and being able to teach my own kids is one of them.

So why the long face? Apparently I have no legitimate reason, as my daughter has pointed out in a round about way. So I've decided I need to change my attitude so that if she asks me tomorrow, I can honestly say, "Yes, baby. I'm happy."

Who needs a therapist when you have a 3-year-old?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The circle of doom

I was newly married and new to the world of ladies' Bible studies, women's fellowship events, and the unspoken rules which govern them (of which I am still largely unaware). I was invited to a luncheon at a wonderful, older woman's house along with about eight other young ladies. And I went.

The luncheon was a lovely affair where we sat around a large dining room table and shared a meal while chatting amiably amongst ourselves. Even as a relative newcomer to the group, I felt at ease and had a good time. Until, that is, the hostess of the party announced the next item on our agenda.

"I thought we could do an encouragement circle next," she said. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

An encouragement WHAT? Sharp, heavy rocks of dread immediately filled my stomach. As the hostess explained how it was going to go, my trepidation grew exponentially.

"We'll go around the circle," she said. "Whoever's turn it is, the rest of the group will share encouraging words about that person. You can share what you like about them, or what you've learned from them, or what good things you see God doing in their life."

My heart raced. I'm the daughter of a Dutchman, I thought. A Dutch farmer, no less. I don't just (shudder, gulp) share feelings. Not to mention that, contrary to the parts of my personality that suggest otherwise, I'm actually an introvert at heart. And what did I expect anyone to say about me anyway? I was well aware the list of my positive qualities was not very long.

This was my worst nightmare.

There was no way out, however. I clutched the edge of the table and tried to ignore the churning in my stomach. Then, it happened.

"Katie," our hostess said, and the blood froze in my veins. "You can be first."

I'm sure my eyes were as big as balloons as the hostess invited everyone else at the table to turn their attention to me and share their encouraging words. I was greeted by silence. Silence, people. Complete and utter silence. I shifted in my seat. I forced myself to smile. What did I expect? I didn't have much to offer as a person and these people hadn't known me that long anyway. More silence.

"It's okay," I finally said, looking around the table, trying to put up a brave front. "You don't have to."

My words must've broken the spell because suddenly a couple people were willing to share.

"You're funny," one said.

"You always make me laugh," shared another.

Okay. Then the hostess called the name of the lady to my left and it became her turn. Relieved, I loosened my grip on the table. Beautiful and heartfelt words and stories were shared as the circle continued, but one thought nagged at my mind: Is that all I am? Funny? Is that all I have to offer?

It's difficult to explain what happened next. It still makes me cringe. I guess I thought one of the ways to prove I wasn't just funny, but also kind and considerate, was to get out of my comfort zone and offer encouragement to one of the other ladies. I guess I thought I knew how to do that. I was wrong.

The last woman's name was called and the encouragement began. This woman was someone I really looked up to and admired, so I didn't think I'd have any trouble sharing a few words of praise. So I opened my mouth. What I wanted to say was that this woman positively shined with natural beauty that didn't depend on what she was wearing or whether she had makeup on or anything like that. She just exuded beauty and grace in every circumstance. That's what I meant to say.

"You are beautiful even when your clothes aren't," is what came out.

Another awkward silence ensued as the implications of my words sank in. The woman looked down self-consciously at her outfit and I sat there with my mouth hanging open, trying to think of something else to say.

"I think it's time to wrap it up," our hostess said.

Eleven years have passed since that fateful day. I've replayed it in my mind over and over, wishing I could have a do-over. Wishing for a different outcome. But as painful as the whole thing was, part of me is glad it happened, because as a direct result of that encouragement circle I have striven to not only get better at praising and building others up, but also to become someone who has more than just humor to offer. I realized I LOVED making people laugh and I loved being funny, but I wanted more.

The circle of doom, as I now call it, forced me to take a good, hard look at my heart and decide what I wanted to be known for...what qualities I wanted the world to see in me. And then I had to go about developing them. I'm still working on that part.

Maybe you've had a "circle of doom" moment in your life that caused you to reevaluate your character or your trajectory. If so, I'd love to hear about it. If not, imagine me sitting there, with all eyes on me and waiting for someone to speak, and ask yourself, "What would the circle say about me?" Then try not to throw up. 

And one last thing: if you ever invite me to participate in another encouragement circle, don't be surprised if I run away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pressure cooker

My youngest son, Simon, is a bright kid. And very imaginative. But he doesn't do well under pressure. He likes to have time to think things over and process his thoughts and feelings.

Well, ever since the boys moved into the basement bedroom together, we've had a certain bedtime routine. The boys brush their teeth and get in their pajamas, we have our Bible time on the couch, and then we go downstairs to tuck the boys into bed and pray.

At first the boys just listened, but once we thought they were old enough, we began asking them to participate more. This quickly became a point of contention with Simon because asking him to pray caused him to feel pressure. And I cannot emphasize this enough: he does not do well under pressure.

The pressure was exacerbated when we were forced to institute a youngest to oldest rule to avoid the nightly "It's your turn" "No I went first last time" "I'll be first three times and then Simon will be first three times" arguments. We didn't want to fight about it and we didn't want to keep track, so the youngest to oldest rule seemed like a good idea, especially since Andy could then be the closer.

And so it has gone for a couple years now. Simon has often tried to get out of it, but we've persisted in asking him to participate, even if it's just in the smallest of ways, because we believe it is important. We usually remind him ahead of time and give him hints about ways he can be preparing himself for prayer time so he can do all the processing he needs to do.

The other day, however, as we were walking downstairs at bedtime, Andy told the boys to start thinking of something they were thankful for and Simon's shoulders immediately started to slump.

"I can never think of anything," he said, his little spirit already shrinking under the pressure.

"Well, we have tons of things to be thankful for," Andy replied. "I'm sure you can think of something."

So we got the boys tucked into bed and we all held hands as Andy announced he wanted us all to thank God for something, youngest to oldest. I could feel Simon's hand grip mine tightly as he began to panic.

"Can Michael please go first?" he begged.

We could all hear the desperation in his voice. Andy agreed to bend the rules for one night only and Michael sighed. Oh the plight of being the longsuffering older sibling!

"Dear God," Michael prayed. "Thank you that our lives aren't all bad."

Um, okay. Way to look at the bright side there, buddy.

Then Andy squeezed Simon's hand, indicating it was his turn. I could almost hear him hyperventilating as the wheels in his mind turned, searching for something to say. I rubbed the back of his hand with my thumb in encouragement, knowing all he had to do was think back over his day to come up with something he could be thankful for. Legos, friends, playing outside, the baby chicks, Easter candy. Any of those things.

As an awkward silence ensued, I rubbed Simon's hand again. I was sure he would choose Easter candy.

"Dear God," he finally began, his voice barely above a whisper. " you"

That's as good a prayer as any, if you ask me. Preach on brother.