Today I Saw God
This summer I am teaching my daughter how to ride a bike without training wheels. If this sounds familiar, it's because I taught her last summer as well. We didn't quite get there the first time around, despite my high hopes. I had imagined her riding with her brothers down the cul-de-sac, finally able to keep up with the other kids in the neighborhood. I dreamed of taking bike rides as a family with everyone on their own bicycle. But that didn't happen. Try as she might, she just couldn't get her balance right and pedal on her own.
And so here we are, another summer trying to master the art of bike riding. My daughter has gotten better; she can now ride about 10 feet on her own before she fearfully steers off into the grass. Steering for any other reason is a skill she has yet to master. I get frustrated and struggle to remain calm every time she heads for the safety of the lawn instead of staying on the driveway. But she is trying. Little by little, she is determined to get there.
Sometimes as I'm making yet another trip down the driveway holding her seat, I wonder how many more times it will take. What is it that is holding her back from finally getting it? A part of me knows that she will inevitably learn someday, but I can't help but think, "What if she doesn't? What if she stops trying and decides it's not worth it, and we never move past this stage?"
Progress is a difficult thing. It doesn't always happen at the rate we want it to. Progress is complicated because sometimes we focus so much on how other people need to change that we don't see what we need to change in ourselves. It's easy to pinpoint all the things my daughter needs to do differently to improve her riding, but have I examined what I could change when I work with her? Perhaps it's not so great learning from a teacher who gets frustrated so quickly. I bet I'd be nervous too if I wondered whether my mom was going to throw in the towel every time I messed up.
When we are bystanders to progress, the road to change can look wide and smooth. But when we are participants, the path often seems narrow and winding. There are twists and turns along the way that catch us off guard. There are obstacles that need to be navigated. Participating in progress is both hard and tiring.
I find myself leaning on God when I'm frustrated with the pace of progress. When I focus on God, I can find my next steps on the complicated road of progress. The journey may be long and hard, but I find comfort knowing that God is with me as I try to navigate the path.
I've learned you can never give up on progress though. Last summer my oldest son was on the dive team. It was a challenge. Each week he performed three dives for a score. Most weeks, he could only complete one correctly. Each week I hoped he would master another dive. Each week he would complete only one. I was ready for him to be done with the dive team. I thought progress was impossible. Forget the fact that there was no way I could complete any of the dives he was attempting. Yet I knew exactly what he needed to do, if only he would listen to me. But he wouldn't.
So you can imagine my surprise when this summer, he began completing each dive beautifully. Progress snuck up on me. Just when I was ready to give up on it, progress proved me wrong. Progress reminded me that things aren't over yet. The path might be narrow and winding, but it moves forward. The journey might be slow, but progress marches on.
So if you find yourself frustrated about the pace of progress, don't give up. It's not over yet. Understand that God has not abandoned you. If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do to bring change, ask God to show you. Do not lose hope. You can make a difference. The pace of progress might be slow, but it would be slower without you.
It's an odd thing, to work in a church. In addition to interacting with my co-workers on a daily basis, one of the things I enjoy the most is the opportunity to interact with the people of the church and the people of the community that come into the church on a daily basis. One of the things that people who do not hang around a church during the week might not realize is that the church is a busy place, even when it's not Sunday. People are always coming in and out. When you have worked at the church as long as I have, you begin to notice the people and the patterns. There is a certain comfort to the faces you see each day.
There are the preschool families. Most preschool parents pick up their kids through the kiss-and-ride line, but there are some that park and walk their kids in. Several times a day, we get to see children walking with their parents, eager to start the day or, if it's the end of the day, eager to tell their parent all about the day's activities. These children start out as tiny 2-year-olds, and three short years later, they are big 5-year-olds. I only see them for about 30 seconds each day as they walk by the office windows, but they grow up so fast.
Then there are the small group attenders. Throughout the week there are several Small Groups that meet at the church. Each week the members of the Small Group trickle in alone and hurry to their group. When the class is over, they walk much slower, usually in pairs or groups, talking to each other and catching up about life. It's not unusual to find a group of friends talking in the parking lot, using every last second to spend time with each other. Some of these groups have been meeting for years. I've heard stories of how these group members have cared for each other when someone was sick or helped out when someone needed extra support.
Finally there are the volunteers. Even after all my years of working in the church, I'm still amazed at the generosity of the volunteers. We have volunteers who serve in the office on a weekly basis, faithfully coming in each week to help. These volunteers are vital members of our team. They provide much needed assistance. There are the volunteers that come in to serve for various ministries. For example, every Tuesday, a team of volunteers cooks a meal in the church kitchen and then delivers the meal to individuals living along the Rt. 50 corridor without homes. When I leave work on Tuesday, I can count on there being a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. There are also volunteers that help prepare the Sanctuary for worship each week. They check the candles, walk the pews and make sure everything looks good before Sunday. There are volunteers that answer phones, volunteers that print the bulletins, volunteers that stuff the bulletins; there are so many volunteers that I could write an entire blog post solely on the volunteers that come in during the week. I'm so grateful for these volunteers.
In addition to the regulars that come in and out of Floris, perhaps the ones that touch my heart the most are the people who come into the church for a specific visit. Sometimes it's a newly engaged couple coming to meet with a pastor about their upcoming wedding. You can usually spot them by the big sappy grins on their faces. Sometimes it's a mom with a new baby coming by to show off the new baby to the staff. Sometimes people are there for a more somber reason: a funeral. No matter what kind of day I'm having at work, I always take a moment to pause and pray for the family and friends on days when there is a funeral at the church. Many times I'm not familiar with the person who died and so I don't attend the funeral, but it's a strange thing to operate like business as usual, when just a few rooms away, a group of people is having one of their hardest days.
In a few weeks, I will be transitioning to a new job. I won't be working at a church anymore. For ten years, my office building has been the spiritual home for so many. That will all change in a few weeks. I'm excited about the new opportunities that are in front of me, but there are definitely things that I will miss. I will miss the people. I will miss the dedication, the heart and the love that people have for their church. I will miss seeing that every single day.
The one thing you realize when you work in a church is that the church is not about the building. The church is truly made of people. The people are the ones that care for each other. The people are the ones being the hands and feet of Jesus. A building, no matter how nice it is, cannot provide that.
It was picture day at my kids' school this week. We spent the beginning of the week making sure we had everything ready for the big day. Much to their dismay, the boys got haircuts. After almost picking out the exact same shirts as last year's picture day outfits, we finally settled on shirts that were nice enough yet still comfortable enough to be worn the entire day. I eased up this year and allowed the boys to wear whatever they wanted for shorts since that part of their outfit doesn't make it in the picture. My daughter looks forward to picture day because it's one of the few days of the year when I offer to curl her hair.
Yes, my kids were looking sharp when they left the house for picture dayat least from the waist up. My kids tend to be pretty photogenic so I am expecting that they took pretty good pictures. In fact, each year when we receive their pictures back we are always amazed at how great they look. We cannot help but look at the 8x10s and marvel at our good-looking children. They look so sweet and innocent in those school pictures. Actually, more recently, we've begun to notice how mature and grown up they've become. While these pictures do a great job of showing missing baby teeth and new adult teeth or new hairstyles, they fail to capture so much.
It's easy to look at these perfectly posed pictures and forget about all the less than perfect moments that accompanied that school year, not to mention those that accompany this specific day.
A few years ago I was trying to take a perfectly posed first-day-of-preschool picture of my younger two children. My daughter did not want to participate at all. My son was trying to be helpful, but she was having none of it. I kept taking pictures on the off chance I would get a keeper. Finally, she cheered up enough to get one good picture. When I went to post the picture to Facebook I had a decision to make. I could post the one good picture and pretend all the other pictures didn't exist, or I could share how our morning really went. I looked through the pictures and found a series of pictures that ended up telling a very cute story of the morning.
I could have deleted all those pictures. I could have just kept the last picture. A decade from now I wouldn't have remembered her meltdown. Looking at the last picture I would have just seen this cute little preschool girl ready for her first day. While the last picture is cute, the four pictures before that are so much better. They tell a story of a helpful brother and a sad sister. Perfectly posed pictures don't always get that.
As a chronic perfectionist, I'm always seeking the perfect picture. Every occasion is marked with a picture. It always takes about 50 pictures to get the right one. Over time, I've noticed that while it's great to have pictures for all these events and milestones, it doesn't always matter if everyone is smiling or looking at the camera. The picture doesn't have to be perfect for it to be good.
If I look back on some of my favorite pictures of my family, they aren't the perfectly posed pictures. Sure, those are beautiful and look great on Christmas cards, but my favorite pictures of my kids are when I have captured them in a real moment. It's those real moments, happy or sad, that I cherish the most. Because life is like pictures; it doesn't have to be perfect for it to be good.
It started in college. A group of my friends and I ate dinner regularly in the dining hall together. We called them family dinners. We only lived a few rooms apart, but throughout the day we went our separate ways and had very different schedules so there was lots to share at dinnertime.
It was my friend that came up with it. I think she saw it in a movie. We called it "High/Low/Flavor." Basically, we went around the table and everyone shared the high part of their day, the low part of their day and their flavor of the day (more on that later). In college our highs were usually something like "My physics teacher was sick today so class was cancelled," or "I got an A on my paper." Our lows usually sounded something like "I found out that my exam is actually tomorrow and not next week," or "I forgot my umbrella and had to walk home from class in the rain." The flavor of the day was something my friend added later when she felt our usual highs and lows needed to be spiced up. The flavor of the day was supposed to be the most influential person in your day. For example, if your crush finally asked you out on a date, he was your flavor of the day. Or perhaps your parents sent you a care package from home; they would be your co-flavors of the day. Don't ask me why we called it the flavor of the day. We were in college, it sounded cool at the time and the name stuck.
We did this game every day no matter what. It was our thing. I remember thinking that I hoped to do this with my future family.
Fast-forward ten years. "High/Low/Flavor" is now a dinner tradition that I passed along to my family. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my children have added a fourth sharing item: the love heart of the day (again with the silly names, I know). The love heart is a person's favorite material item of the day. In our house the love heart is often Minecraft or an iPad, but I like to think it's teaching them to be grateful for what they have.
Full disclosure, my kids are eight and six so some nights the game is not taken very seriously. There are a lot of reminders to stay on track with their sharing. Also, most days everyone identifies everyone else at the table as their flavor of the day as to not hurt anyone else's feelings. Or sometimes siblings are intentionally left out of the flavor of the day list as a direct insult. This is then repaid when the insulted sibling has a turn. So the ritual is not without its faults.
I still love that our family does this. Especially since I work all day and I'm not with my kids; I don't always know how their days went. I love to hear them share their best parts. Incidentally, the "high" of my day is often that very moment. It's always amazing to me to listen to them. Sometimes they pick the most random highs and lows. Other times it's expected. My favorite days are the days they get to their lows and pause for a minute, and then they say, "I don't have a low. My day was great."
I overheard the conversation while I was in the middle of doing something else. My son was with a group of boys his age who all happen to be on different swim teams. As they compared their stats, it became obvious that my son was the slowest. One boy couldn't believe my son's time.
"That's so slow!" he said in amazement. He didn't say it to be mean. He didn't say it to make fun of my son, to his credit, I think he was genuinely shocked about my son's time.
My son just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
In that moment, my heart ached for my son. I was torn between letting my son handle the situation himself or stepping in and changing the topic. Most of the time I would probably have opted for option a, trusting that he could handle it, but this time I opted for option b. I walked over to the table and brought up a different sport that my son had more confidence in and then I walked away.
It was hours before I was able to talk to my son about the incident. When I asked him how he felt about the comment he said, "I was kind of sad. But I am slow. I still didn't really like that he said it, I guess."
One characteristic that I have always appreciated in my son is his attitude about sports. In his mind, sports are all about having fun. He loves playing sports for fun. It's not about winning; it's about playing the game. He has played basketball for three years now in a league that doesn't keep score, and he couldn't care less. He loves to play basketball because he loves the game, not because he likes to win. Unlike me, his opinions about whether he likes a sport or not have nothing to do with how successful he is in that sport. If he likes to play it, he likes the sport.
So the fact that he is not a record-breaking swimmer does not really worry him. But being called slow by your friend is never fun. We talked as best as an 8-year-old boy and his mom can about things with the overall message being to remember how he felt in this situation so that he won't call someone else slow if the shoe is ever on the other foot.
These are the moments in parenting that I find the most difficult. I don't want my son to ever feel sad and yet I know that there is no way I can be there at every moment to make sure no one ever says anything to hurt his feelings. I don't want my son to ever feel that he is not as good at something as someone else. But the truth is, there will always be someone better. There will always be someone faster, someone smarter or someone stronger. I want to shelter him from any sort of discomfort that life might throw at him. I want to stand before him and take the fall for him so that he will not feel the blow that life offers him. I want to keep him for myself where he is safe, but I am a million times more boring than what he can experienceoutin the world.
The hard part about sending your kids out into the world is that, while it can offer your children friendships, knowledge and adventure, it can also bring them heartbreak, disappointment and pain. As parents, we can create safeguards for them for a while that might protect them from life's harsh realities, but we are doing them a great disservice if we never allow them to feel discomfort.
The best we can hope for as parents is to raise happy well-rounded kids. Kids who understand that, in the game of life, sometimes you feel like the winner and sometimes you can feel like the loser.Kids who know that they are deeply loved by God regardless of their successes or failures. I think when kids (and adults for that matter) are confident in this love from God, they are able to be bold in their actions and take risks because their self-worth is not tied to their accomplishments. When we focus on teaching kids about their value in God's eyes, they begin to understand it doesn't matter as much how many baskets they score in a game or if they had they highest test score in their class.
My son had a swim meet last night. He swam great. He didn't win any top ribbons, but he beat the goal he set for himself by two seconds. He swam four seconds faster than his last time.
I wish you could have seen the smile on his face when he saw his time. He wasn't smiling because he beat his friends; he's still slower than most of them. He was smiling because he did something he didn't think he could do. He was so proud of himself. I was proud too.
I wouldn't trade that smile for a thousand first-place ribbons.