Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Parent Teacher Conference

As I walked past the mirror and inspected the outfit I chose to wear that would transition from office to parent/teacher conferences this evening, I experienced a revelation: this evening marks the last parent/teacher conference for my youngest daughter. Ever. 

Tonight will be the last time I sit down and formally discuss her progress for the year with her homeroom teacher. After this evening I will no longer have sanctioned input about her class schedule. For one last time, I will speak with an adult and offer feedback about her goals and interests. After this she alone will be entrusted with the task of navigating her way through the intricate and complex pathways that will help her reach her post-secondary education goals. 

After tonight I will simply watch from a distance, offering small bits of objective advice or anecdotes drawn from personal experience designed to provide insight and, hopefully, guidance.

How did this happen so fast?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I explained to the Mother’s Day Out director that my daughter had separation issues and might have a difficult time leaving me for two hours a week? And didn’t my mouth then drop in disbelief as I watched her race off to play with the Little Tykes cars that littered the expansive carpeted church fellowship area that housed the daily program designed to help toddlers adjust to school settings (and thus providing moms a few hours of much-needed respite from their kids’ endless energy)?

And wasn’t it just yesterday that the kindergarten teacher approached me at pick-up to tearfully tell me about her taking the class to the cafeteria for lunch and forgetting that Katie had gone to the bathroom just before they left? When they returned to the classroom she found Katie hiding behind an easel because she was scared to be left alone. The teacher’s distress was so sincere and so touching that all I could do was giggle and reassure her that all was okay - Katie would get over it, no problem. She did, of course, but she never forgot how it felt to be left behind - a lesson that will shape her own behavior toward others for many years to come.

I’m sure it was just yesterday when she discovered Student Council and the leadership lessons that accompany community service in middle school. Not to mention her research on Title IX that formed the basis for the feminist ideals she holds close to her heart - taking them out to wave around with pride whenever someone challenges equality and women’s rights (I’d like to say I feel sorry for such people but, nah. If you’re a misogynist then I cannot - and will not - help you in the face of the wrath of the Red Head).

Come on, I KNOW it was just yesterday that she walked onto a high school campus as a freshman, eager to enjoy high school life to its fullest. Football games to watch. Volleyball and basketball games to play. Dances to attend. Homecoming attendants to promote (sometimes others, sometimes herself). Boys to date. Parties and bonfires and sleepovers to help foster closer friendships. Classes to challenge and expand her knowledge and way of thinking. Tests to take, papers to write, and novels to read. Relationship issues to tackle. Newfound independence.

It WAS yesterday - and a lifetime ago. 

A life well-lived, filled with love and support and encouragement and, sometimes, a little disappointment and frustration. But a life full of, well, living.

And after tonight I will begin the process of preparing her for that next step in life: college

But for tonight I will relish the present and celebrate all the accomplishments she has achieved thus far. 

I will provide that one last bit of advice allowed as the mother of a rising high school senior and enjoy the last year and a half she will call our house her home before embarking on the journey that will help her achieve her career goals.

Because tomorrow I will wake up and remember yesterday when I attended my last parent/teacher conference on her behalf.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Some of it's Magic, Some of it's Tragic

Obviously my 2015 Lenten commitment didn’t pan out quite the way I wanted. Four (or five, I can’t remember now) days into Lent and I stopped writing in my Spiritual Journal.

Now, I can give you excuses for my inability to finish the task I set before myself, but I won’t. I’m just going to tell you the truth: I didn’t want to do it.

Look, it’s not like I didn’t have good intentions. And it’s not like I don’t want to experience spiritual growth. It’s just that, well, writing a journal - and then letting others read it - is hard work. Heck, reading it back to myself was no cake walk.

Which is why I stopped writing. 

Actually, it went something like this: On day four (or five - again, whatever), the topic was “Mindfulness”. On this same day a former babysitter, now a thirty-something mother with three young children, wrote me asking for advice about what to say to a parent who lost a child through a freak accident. I wrote a response in the form of that day’s journal entry, since being mindful of all life brings us - both the good and the bad - is part of personal growth. Let's face it, when something bad happens to you, or your child, you simply want to shut down and cease to feel. Anything. When you do that, you temporarily avoid the agony of experiencing a pain so deep it suffocates you and threatens to overcome you. However, the grip of fear and sorrow that you feel in times of such great distress forces you to fight back, and learn to embrace life - with all its beauty and all its ugliness - in a way you never before imagined.

That’s what it’s like to be mindful.

And that mindfulness stays with you. When your friend experiences a similar devastating event, you feel right along with him or her. Because you know what it’s like. You know what it’s like to lose all sense of stability. You know what it’s like to have everything you know suddenly taken from you, and you realize you have to start life all over again, and you know it can never be the same as it was before The Event.

And it’s painful. And exhausting. And lonely. And miserable.

And who wants to talk about - or read about - that stuff?

Who wants to go there over and over again?

So, here I am, still in the midst of yet another challenging life event, facing the demons from my past, and trying to make sense of it all without becoming angry and bitter. I’m trying to allow myself the luxury of feeling - of being mindful - without over-indulging my inner drama queen. 

Because, look, I know it could be worse. I know some of you reading this have been there - you walked right up to the worst, looked it in the eye, and had no choice but to allow it into your lives and face it, head on, and do your very best to move forward and re-learn how to live. I know this because I’ve been there, too. And I was so scared I would have to do it all over again, and I honestly don’t know if I have the strength to do it one more time. And, I also don’t want my children to have to go through these painful, life-altering events.

Because who wants to watch her child suffer? I mean, maybe some of you are not quite so worked up by this stuff as I am. Maybe you view suffering as a necessary evil for personal growth. I get it, suffering does lead to wisdom. But to watch your child experience a debilitating illness or agonizing treatments to overcome a life-threatening disease? That just seems too much to bear for me. And for those of you who think it’s just a matter of having faith, I either envy your unwavering confidence (or your possession of that crystal ball that tells you everything will be just fine) or I pity your inability to be honest.

So, I wrote that post on mindfulness. And then I never published it. Because, honestly, it was depressing.

And I’m tired of being depressing. I’m tired of being depressed. I’m tired of Debbie Downer taking over so much of my life. 

The truth is, we laugh a lot in this house. Even with our tears. We tell jokes - and all most some of them are very, very funny. Some are inappropriate, too, but, hey, I never said we were perfect. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I’m going to do my best to keep recording my story - and Billy’s story. Some days the stories will be difficult to share, and maybe those stories won’t be shared in a timely manner. That’s Ok. But other times the stories will be joyous, and even funny.

Because that’s how life is. 

Sometimes it’s challenging and incredibly, unbearably difficult.

Sometimes it’s overwhelmingly joyful.

Better yet, Jimmy Buffet said it best when he said:

“Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic. But I’ve had a good life, all the way.”

Life is good. Embrace it - every single bit of it - and live, really LIVE.

Until next time, be the light, people. Be the light.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Five Reasons Why My Daughter Runs Fast

Today I joined my daughter for a short run. One rule of parenting that I learned from my sister-in-law is that whenever a child invites me to participate in an activity with him or her, I acquiesce. Working out is no exception. Over the years I have attended zumba and yoga classes with my daughters as well as lifted weights in the gym with various members of the Sticklen Offspring Clan. Thus, when the youngest daughter asks me to go for a run with her, I don my running gear and join her in the great outdoors (or on the track at the Y. Both work just fine for me.)

However, over the years my running skills (which I have honed since I was eleven years old, mind you) have declined significantly. Unfortunately, the lack of speed and efficiency on the track that I now possess reared their ugly heads today as I tried, in vain, to keep up with the Red Head’s quick pace. I realized, as I panted and stumbled twenty yards behind her, that there are five reasons why she is faster than I these days.

Those reasons are as follows:

5. The Red Head has not had back surgery. In January 2011, smack in the middle of Snowmageddon, the greatest back surgeon in the world - or at least here in Joplin - performed a microdiscectomy on my back to help repair a herniated disc. After forty-five minutes of surgery (and about four hours total in the outpatient surgery center), I left the hospital pain free for the first time in six months. I tell you, that man is a miracle worker. For the first four years following my surgery I hesitated to run at all, but I recently was told I could run up to about two-and-a-half miles at a time and, as I mentioned earlier, when a kid asks me to join her in an activity, I do it.

4.  The Red Head has longer legs than I do. And, everyone knows that longer legs equal larger strides, thus making for a more efficient run.

3.  The Red Head is in good shape.

2.  The Red Head is much more athletic than I am. In fact, all four of my children are much more athletic than I. But at least I play the guitar.

And, the number 1 reason why my daughter runs faster than I do....

The Red Head is sixteen. And I? Am not….

How about you? Do you work out with your kid(s)? Are you a runner, and, if so, do your children share your affinity for running?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Changing the World Using Social Media - "Choose This Day"

Thank you, Jenny, for this meme! 
The other day I posted a link to an article on my friend’s Facebook page, thinking it contained some information she might enjoy. A few hours later she posted this response:

“Oh my beautiful, intelligent dear friend, I absolutely love it!!!!”

As I read her comment I noticed that I sat up a bit more in my seat, my face relaxed into an easy smile, and my breathing deepened as my whole self felt, well, loved.

Since then, I’ve been marveling over how just a simple, kind, comment can make a person feel warm and confident about herself in a matter of moments. 

I’ve also been wondering about different ways I, too, can help others feel good about themselves by sharing kind thoughts and observations about their strengths and talents, without appearing sycophantic.

And then I stumbled upon this post by my blogger friend, Jenny Hansen. Here, Jenny introduces us to author Kathryn Craft and her upcoming Twitter campaign proposal, 


All of us have struggles we deal with. And many of us realize we are not alone in our trials. When we offer positive thoughts and words of encouragement, we often provide the energy another person needs in order to continue on his or her particular journey. Sometimes that “second wind” is just an extra burst that empowers someone to achieve a goal. Other times it literally saves a life.

“On the day my husband chose death over life, ‘choose this day’ became my mantra. Each day, no matter how sad or horrified or frustrated I felt, I chose life—and with this simple daily act, my sense of empowerment grew.”

Her goal is to flood the Twittersphere with positive comments and quotes on May 1st, using the hashtag, #choosethisday. She hopes the positivity will continue throughout the month of May, culminating in a big Twitter celebration at the end of the month.

Won’t you join us as we attempt to flood the Internet with positive vibes? If you don’t have Twitter, you can still post comments on Facebook using the hashtag #choosethisday. For extra thoughts and quotes on encouragement, visit Kathryn’s Facebook author page. You can also follow her on Twitter at @kcraftwriter. If you like, you can also follow Jenny at @JennyHansenCA and me at @JoMoBlogger

I look forward to seeing you on Twitter, helping to lift others up through positive comments and words of encouragement!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Expressing Spirituality - Conversation 4 With Joan Chittister

This post is part of the "Lent 2015" series.

“Spirituality is expressed in everything we do.” - Anne E. Carr

“I believe that our lives are our spirituality, but I am not sure that behavior is its certain indicator. I do a great many things that “look” good….” - Joan Chittister

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead, also.” - James 2:26

It’s a tricky proposition, this quest to deepen one’s spirituality. I want to strengthen my faith - or maybe just better define it - and, in so doing, I realize I must also examine my behavior, because it’s through my words and actions that I interact with the world around me. 

But too often we become so focused on our behaviors, the “whats”, and we lose sight of the “whys” - our basic faith that motivates us to act in love in the first place.

Let’s face it: Fear of the unknown is a valid fear. And, none of us really knows what happens after we die. Oh, we have theories and myths and beliefs, but we don’t have proof.

And that’s scary.

But that’s also where faith comes in. You know, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see," (Hebrews 11:1) and all that business.

However, just like proclaiming you’re a believer in the spiritual connections of mankind without actually doing anything to help your fellow humans during their time of need is useless, performing a bunch of good deeds without genuine love and concern for those around you doesn’t necessarily get you brownie points in the afterlife, either.

So, how do we strike a balance? how do we make sure we are living an authentic spiritual life? How do we allow love to guide and dictate our actions as we journey through life? 

Seriously, how do YOU ensure your are not just acting out of habit or a sense of duty when you perform charitable deeds? How do you keep your love for others - and the world around you - sincere? Share your thoughts in the comments section below….

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Religion, Church, and Spirituality - Conversation 3 With Joan Chittister

“When the death of their master was clearly imminent, the disciples became totally bereft. ‘If you leave us, Master,’ they pleaded, ‘how will we know what to do?’ And the master replied, ‘I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I’m gone you will see the moon.’” - Sufi Tale

“The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion.” - Joan Chittister

Ahhhh, religion. Church. How did something that should unite people and provide spiritual guidance and refuge get so screwed up? Studies indicate that more and more people - both men and women - find themselves unable to identify with organized religion, and is it any wonder? Advances in technology make the world smaller, allowing access into other cultures that previous generations only learned about through brief references in the Encyclopedia Britannica or photo spreads in National Geographic. Today one merely needs to perform a Google search to learn about religious or cultural practices of practically every obscure and major culture on the planet.

Today’s world is acutely aware of the inequalities, persecution, and war brought on by differences in religious beliefs.

Is it any wonder that more and more people have difficulty identifying with the formal religious institutions that they believe contribute to the world’s unrest?

Perhaps it’s time for a religious reformation: A new approach to exploring the wonders of the Universe that incorporates the fusion of our knowledge of history and culture with personal insight about how humans should treat one another.

Perhaps it’s time to get back to the basic definition of God — “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

God gives us signs. He speaks to us through the words and deeds of others. Literature, good deeds, academia, Nature. Let’s utilize God’s resources and stretch ourselves to choose love over hate in an effort to better understand the world around us.

“I have decided to stick with love…. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do you identify with a particular church or religious organization? If so, which one. If not, why? How do you think we can help alleviate some of the world’s unrest? Whose responsibility is it to work toward world peace?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

God Is....Spiritual Conversations With Joan Chittister

*A few weeks ago I bought the book, 40 Soul-Stretching Conversations, by Sister Joan Chittister, with the intention of exploring my own ideas of what faith and spirituality mean to me at this point in my life. It is also my intent (well, providing that I like this year’s journey) to break out this book time and time again. The book is actually a small journal that provides daily quotes and then insight from Sr. Joan (because obviously we are on a first-name basis) before inviting readers to jot down their own thoughts and responses.

After some contemplation, I decided that what I would like to do - if you will allow me the indulgence - is to use this as my Lent Journal. 

Each day during Lent I will provide you with the quote, a snippet of Sr. Joan’s response, and then my own contemplation.

Here’s the caveat: your responses are not only welcome, they are essential in order to keep the conversation - and growth - moving forward. So, please feel free to add a comment at the end of each post, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter (you know how to find me). I look forward to seeking out more spiritual truths with you this Lenten season! *

“God is gracious and merciful… slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” - Exodus 34:6

“Who is this God, really? Who is this God whom we have fashioned out of the light of our needs and the hopes of our hearts?” - Sr. Joan Chittister

Three days into this and already I’m asking myself, good grief, what have I gotten myself into with this project?

Who am I to discuss who or what God is? I am no great theologian or learned academic. I’m certainly no student of the Bible. What, then, can I possibly bring to this conversation?

Sister Joan elaborates on mankind’s definitions of God by illustrating the various incarnations we assign to Him, according to our own needs and circumstances. When we are angry, our God is a vengeful God. When we find ourselves at the end of our rope, God is full of mercy and kindness. When we feel guilt-ridden by our own actions, God is forgiving.

Sister Joan’s observations are sobering. 

Does this mean that, much like XTC’s lead singer Andy Partridge proclaims in his song, Dear God, mankind created God for its own needs?

Or, is God all these things and so much more, as Sister Joan states in her closing statement, “Surely God is all this…. And more, the more we cannot in our smallness and our thirst even begin to imagine”?

Personally, I believe God IS all that we need Him to be, when we need Him. He visits us through friends, neighbors, and even strangers who share in our pain, our joy, our sorrow. Jesus himself admonished his followers to assist those identified as downtrodden, hopeless, or weak. When we reach out to our neighbors in such a manner we allow ourselves to be vessels through which God can help others. We realize that there will be times in our lives that we, too, will require the support of our fellow human beings in order to survive the sometimes harsh circumstances this life throws at us.

Yes, surely God is all this, and so much more than our limited minds can understand and imagine.

What do you think? Who or what is God to you?