Taking the Next Step: A Graduation Address
Focusing My Focus
I had one of the most unexpected honors of my life this past Friday night, as I was invited to speak at my son's high school graduation ceremony. It wasn't something I had imagined happening, the senior class voting for a mom to give the graduation address, but I loved every minute of it. It not only helped me hold myself together and keep the crying to a minimum, it caused me to reflect deeply, not just on what my house is losing by seeing my son launch into his future, but also what he's gaining.
I know many of my readers are in similar stages of life, with transition and change and letting go defining the season. So, if that's you today, I pray these words are a blessing…
Things I've Learned About Marriage While Riding a Tandem Bicycle
Right now, in this moment, I could choose to focus on:
• The fact that my second born will move out of our house in 86 days.
• The truck that’s in the shop and the sinking feeling that it might be the transmission.
• The teenage boy’s room that looks like a bomb went off in it.
• The list of weird things my body has done recently that makes me feel like the invitation in my mailbox to join the AARP wasn’t a mistake after all.
• The relationship that’s not what I wish it was.
• The college tuition bills. All of them.
• The anxious thought I’ve been giving to the Lord and then taking back again.
Chance, or Something Else?
It's spring time in west Texas, which means my husband and I have just aired up the tires, dusted off the seats, and taken our tandem bike out for its great season of adventure. It was an anniversary gift four years ago that scored him major husband points, but if I'd known then what I know now, it probably would have garnered even greater excitement on my part. And that's because our canary yellow bike with two seats, one wicker basket, and an obnoxious squeezy horn attached to the handles has been the best marriage counselor we've ever had. I'm serious. Have marriage issues? Buy a tandem bike. You'll either fall more in love with each other or get so ticked off that you'll be forced to "work it out," sometimes all in the same evening ride around the neighborhood...
How to Prepare Your Family for the New Year
My husband recently wrote a piece entitled "Ten Quotes That Changed My Life." I was intrigued by the thought as I read it, and my mind has been composing my own list ever since, making me realize my life has indeed been impacted and forever altered because of both written and spoken words. Coupled with that realization was a recent walk through a bookstore and the face of a book I spotted with a title along the lines of Chance Encounters That Changed My Life.
Why You Shouldn't Give Up, Mama
"Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it." - L.M. Montgomery
I grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and even at a tender age, that line fascinated me. Now that I'm an adult and understand what it means to regret mistakes on a grander scale than when I read those words at age eleven, I appreciate them even more.
And it's that same sentiment that has caused this week to have always been one of my very favorite weeks out of the year. The last few days in December, when last year stretches behind with all of its memory, its triumphs, and yes, its mistakes, while next year stretches out ahead with all of its invitations and opportunities.
A fresh start, with no mistakes in it.
How to Have a Wonder-Filled Christmas
With four children entrusted to my care, I spend a lot of my time teaching. How to tie shoes. How to ride a bike. How to drive a car. How to match your clothes. How to start the dishwasher. The list goes on and on, right into the more important things.
How to forgive. How to use your words to bless. How to pray. How to stop gossip. How to strengthen yourself in the Lord.
I've been teaching these precious ones for fifteen years now, so I'm comfortable in my role as teacher. I'm not always so comfortable in my role as student. And that's where I found myself this week, as my son became the teacher.
Like A Little Child
love the song I hear playing non-stop in every store I enter right now, the one with the line that gets stuck in your head so easily.
"It's the most wonderful time of the year."
I know those stores are sending not so subtle hints that I need to get my Christmas shopping done, preferably in the store I'm in right at that moment, but I like the song for a different reason. I like it because my mind re-writes it ever so slightly.
"It's the most wonder-filled time of the year."
And it is full of wonder.
When Keegan, my oldest, was little, he was the king of adorable baby talk. There was "strawbabies" for strawberries. "Crash can" for trash can. And my favorite, the basketball "hoot" for that hoop he couldn't quite seem to successfully locate with his tiny, foam ball.
And then there was this.
"Hold your Keegy, Daddy."
A Blessing for Teachers (With Free Printable!)
"As I was praying for you..."
That was the first sentence in a letter I received this week, sweetly tucked in with a beautiful gift of flowers and watercolor print. The rest of it chronicled her prayers over my life and what she could see God doing in this season I'm in. It was from one of the ladies in my monthly dinner group, and was quietly dropped off to my office while I was out running errands.
This group of women has been meeting together since the first of the year. We have a date, the second Thursday of the month, that's now blocked off for gathering around the table. We eat, we talk, we laugh, we pray, and we eat some more.
And even though I always know it's going to be fun, sometimes I don't feel like gathering.
When They Go: What to Look Forward to Your Child's First Year Out of the House
New year. New grade levels. New friends. New habits. New teachers.
We are sending our most valuable treasures out into the world to be taught and shaped and mentored by teachers who didn't bring them into the world, wash their clothes this weekend, or put their breakfast on the table this morning. Teachers who care about them, but aren't their parents. Teachers who want to see them succeed, but don't have a lifetime of equity built with them. Teachers who can't focus on four children like we do at our house, but have an entire classroom to take care of.
And that's why I take a few minutes today to bless my children on the first day of school, but also the teachers who are entering my children's lives today...
It was one year ago that we packed up a suburban full of a boy's things, including the iron and dorm-sized ironing board mom just knew he would need, and followed an equally packed little red car for 7 hours to a big city with a big university. We unpacked and set up that boy's new home in an hour and fifteen minutes and then sat and stared at each other. What now?
There were some welcome meetings to attend and some books to buy, but the to-do list was decidedly small.
Because over the course of eighteen years, everything had either already been done or it hadn't, and all that was left that day was to let go.
The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground, he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled." (Psalm 143:3-4)
Those words from David the Psalmist are the obvious result of deep crisis. David had a number of life events that could have produced them, but he's not alone. I've been there. Everyone I know has been there at least once. We've all tasted of this place of crisis, not just in the physical life being threatened, but the place where the soul is at the brink of death. The place where thoughts, emotions, decision making, they've all been brought past the point of pain to the shadows where only numbness resides.
And it's there that we have an invitation. Two, actually.
Weekly Adventures: Six of Our Best Family Nights
recently enjoyed speaking to a friend on her podcast about pastoring your soul. We spoke about the busyness, the noise, the tiredness, and the chaos that can drown out our own heart's signals that it's time for a pause. A pause to be still, be quiet, and be refreshed. It was a great conversation, and if that stirs something down deep, you can listen to it here.
But, as I was processing the things we talked about, I realized there is a pattern I've begun to follow in life that not only pastors my own heart, but my marriage and my family. And it all involves TIME.
I wrote about it here a few years ago in regards to fostering a healthy relationship with my husband, so I've known it existed, but I've come to see that the same pattern that nurtures my marriage also nurtures the deep parts of me, and is even the same pattern that causes my kids to thrive.
Recently, Treasure the Ordinary featured a post on Family Nights. That article has sparked a great deal of feedback, with many readers retelling how they, too, have had to go back to "boot camp" as a family and pick up old, yet important habits they had inadvertently laid down. I'm encouraged that it's never too late to start over, and that this week's family night could be your best yet!
To that end, here is a list of some of the most enjoyable of our recent von Atzigen Family Night Adventures. In the past, I've noticed that ideas I've found online for this kind of thing seem to be centered around families with young children. So, while a lot of these ideas could be adjusted to accommodate little ones (especially if you partner them with older kids or parents), my list here is centered around families with older children and teens. I hope they will spark your own idea for an evening in, or an evening out, as long as it's with the ones you love most.
I did it. I did the thing I've been planning to do for months. I took a day off and spent it alone, at home.
I did what I wanted. I didn't do what I didn't want to do. I drank two cups of coffee instead of one and didn't even get dressed until after lunch, which I ate alone with only the sound of the dishwasher for company. I played the piano. I read a little. I walked the dog. I took a nap. I wrote a poem.
And I didn't want it to end.
What To Do When Someone Hurts Your Child
As a mother of three sons, Mary's relationship with Jesus intrigues me. There are not a lot of details of his growing up years. There's his birth, his dedication, his foray into the temple. And then there's this simple, yet worldchanging story of attending a village wedding with his mom.
I love to imagine him there. Eating the wedding feast. Singing the songs of blessing over the couple. Dancing to the music of celebration. Toasting the new family's prosperity.
And then, this interruption. The moment his mother comes to him and quietly whispers her prayer.
Ever since I was a little girl, I've read the Christmas story from Mary's perspective. What would it have been like to birth the Savior of the world? After a pregnancy where everyone thought the worst of you? And what was it like to experience that birth far from home, away from your own mother, with only your young, terrified husband to hold your hand? The birth of Jesus was a miracle in many ways, and one of them was that a young teenage girl said yes to the whole thing, trusting God to sort out the details of her very real life.
But, I'm certain the birth wasn't the hardest part for Mary. For, just days later, she would hear the words no mother ever wants to hear at her baby's dedication service, spoken by a prophet who whispered them while looking deep into her eyes,
"And a sword will pierce your own heart, also." (Luke 2: 35)
I most often write about the things God is doing and speaking in the quietest places of my heart. But, today, there's just something I need to confess. And it seems loud and not very spiritual at all. But, it has to come out.
I am a fashion mess right now.
I'm not really sure how this happened. For most of my life, I've been able to look around the room, take stock of the styles and trends represented, and think, "Yep. Smack in the middle. Not too far ahead, like a Paris runway model, but not far enough behind to be reppin the Amish runway style." And I was good with that.
What To Do When You Disagree With A Fellow Believer
"Sometimes you have to go back to boot camp." My friends words were spoken with a laugh, but the truth of them rang in my ears.
She was speaking about her children. About their tendency to drift from the family's boundaries and push the envelope. About the need to come back to basics and remind children what we do, what we don't do, and why. We love each other. We speak kindly to each other. We use our manners. We don't eat things that come from our nose. The real basics.
That's boot camp. And we just had one of those seasons in our house.
I always knew that particular sound. The one that said someone was angry. It might be that someone stepped on his feelings, it might just be that someone stepped on his cookie, but he wasn't happy. It was an angry brother.
And when my boys were young and prone to disagreements, I was hearing that angry cry far too often and became a little desperate in looking for a way to help them move past their differences and celebrate the sheer fact that they were brothers. I often tried lecturing, but I knew they really didn't need to hear a lot of preaching. They knew everything I was trying to tell them already, they just didn't want to do it in the heat of being wronged. I needed something else.
And that's how it was born. A simple tactic, really, but it seemed like it was magic in how effective it was.