Saturday, September 22, 2012

The world is loud ... but not our guiding force

It could simply be the circles I run in, but it seems as if a huge number of families these days is dealing with at least one child who struggles with anxiety, insecurity, or feelings of being overwhelmed.  My heart aches for these kids...   

These kids that I know are not unloved or unchurched.  They are not neglected.  They are not under-encouraged or ill-prepared.  Their parents are not oblivious or uninvolved.

So why are these young people overwhelmed by their lives?

Kids are kids.  Shouldn't they be playing, laughing, riding bikes, skipping rocks, exploring...enjoying this season of innocence and little responsibility?

But...  When I take a step back and look at the environment our kids are growing up in, I see a great deal of competition.  In everything from sports, to popularity, to exclusive recess clubs, to test scores, to keeping up with the Joneses.  In elementary school!

At lunch this afternoon, I saw a table of moms wearing t-shirts that read, "Playing against our team is hard.  Playing for our team is even harder."

What is the purpose of these shirts?  To intimidate the other team?  [The kids couldn't have been more than 9 years old...  If intimidating them is the goal, the adults should be ashamed.]  To inspire their team to greatness?  [Who wants to play on a team that is HARD to play for ... especially at age nine?]

But, when I read it, I felt like it answered my question.

Why are kids overwhelmed?  Because we've made everything so hard.

So intense.

With our words, we tell them that winning isn't everything.  We tell them that they don't have to BE the best, they just have to TRY their best.  But, when we think the kids aren't listening [or we're out of control], the truth slips out.  The desired outcome for so many is excellence.  To be the very best.  To WIN.

That parent scolding their child from the sidelines because he missed a shot?  That kid's best effort today was not good enough.  The parent [coach] that forced his child to play in tears, then picked him up and carried him off  the field while yelling in his face because he hit the ball well but was thrown out at first because he didn't run hard enough?  That kid's best effort today was not good enough.  The coach who screamed insults and directions at his players and bullied teenaged officials [while parents sat silently] throughout the entire game?  The team's [and officials'] best effort today wasn't good enough.

Even if none of these things have ever happened directly to one of my kids, my kids still saw it.  And the message that winning matters was received loud and clear.  Somehow, in spite of all of the times my husband and I have assured our children that only their very best effort matters, they hear something different from the world, and it overwhelms them.  The world is loud.

And, it doesn't stop at sports.  Our kids are inundated all day every day with having to be the best.  The top speller, reader, writer and mathematician in the classroom.  The best knock-out or kickball player at recess.  The best gift-giver at birthday parties.  The funniest at lunch. The owner of the coolest backpack or skateboard.

Of course most parents don't directly tell their kids that they have to reign supreme in every area of their lives, but what we tolerate from our coaches, and how much of our schedule is dedicated to sports, and the things parents shout from the sidelines, and how we respond to grades and talk about our kids' teachers and school administrators, even how we talk about our neighbors and select birthday gifts and birthday guest lists ... it all writes on their hearts and tells them what matters most.

And I think it overwhelms a lot of kids.  Heck, I think it overwhelms a lot of adults.

Because things have become so intense, so competitive ... we have overwhelmed our schedules with multiple weekly practices and regular season and tournament games - sometimes for more than one sport in a season.  Throw in summer tutors and enrichment work.  And ultra packed social schedules during our limited down time.  And music lessons.  And somehow, in an effort to balance things, we even add in volunteer work and keep up all church commitments. 

And when parents intentionally choose not to over-schedule, there are the down-lookers who seem to be judging us.  There are countless catty comments and unsolicited advice about how we're putting our kids at a competitive disadvantage, sometimes disguised as teasing or simply delivered as a backhanded compliment about how our kids might be able to read, but theirs is a stand-out athlete.  As if we are under-achievers...  And, if I feel like an under-achiever, how must my child feel?

It's a vicious cycle...  It really is no wonder that so many people are overwhelmed, insecure and anxious.  We live in a very busy, competitive world.  And it starts early.

But, it doesn't have to be this hard.  I'm just not sold on the idea that the competition has to be so great at such an early age [or any age].  And I'll never be convinced that ruling ones schedule and crushing their self-esteem is the path to success.

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:2-4

"Let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't."  Romans 12:6 

"Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."  Psalm 105:4

Sunday, September 2, 2012


As I tucked the boys in tonight, we discussed all of the areas where they've grown over the summer.

Sports camps grew Zach in confidence and comfort on the field.  The difference between soccer now and soccer last spring is remarkable.  Not that he's suddenly a super star, but he plays with utter joy and excitement.  We're seeing a hunger that we haven't seen in a long time, and he's wearing a smile again as he runs the field.

Luke moved very quickly from t-ball, to coach pitch, to machine pitch baseball between the spring and summer.  For a group of boys who didn't know which direction to run to get to first base, we're thoroughly impressed with how they are now fielding the ball and consistently hitting.  We are a team of kindergartners, playing 1st and 2nd graders in fall ball.  These kids are a full head (or two) taller than most of our players, but we hold our own.  And we couldn't be more proud of Luke, as he pays attention to the game and always gives his best effort.

Both boys were offered $25 if they would take the time to learn - and use - the free style stroke in the pool...all summer long.  Zachary is the only one who actually used it consistently, so I'll be forking over the big bucks to him tomorrow.  It beats paying for swim lessons, and I'm thrilled that at least one of my kids came out of this summer a strong swimmer.  Luke is well on his way; he was just more concerned with hand stands and somersaults than he was with swimming this summer.

Diving was another hot pool pursuit.  Luke's is still more of a belly flop, but Zach has turned into a good diver...even though diving is prohibited at every pool we've ever been to.  (What's up with that?)  I'm not sure that diving could be considered a necessary life skill, but it's fun.  And, it seems to me that a belly flop hurts less from the side of the pool than from the diving board, so why not start at the side?  (Yes, I did just justify breaking the rules....and I'm generally a lover and follower of all rules.)

And they both went off the high dive this summer!  Luke only did it once, as he didn't really like it.  But Zach loved it, and is now a lover of the diving boards.  This was a paralyzing fear last summer.  Poor Zach would try every time we went to the pool, but just couldn't talk himself into it.  This year he took the leap of faith, and he's never looked back.

The boys grew a ton socially too, as both kids developed a lot of friendships over the summer.  Zach discovered that a group of school friends lives just a couple of blocks away, so they are now taking frequent turns walking or biking to each others houses to play.  And Luke met several neighborhood kindergarten boys over the summer through sports, and almost all of them are in his kindergarten class!  It's nice to finally have "neighborhood kids".

And each of the boys has also found some really great friends through church.  Many of these are kids who also go to school with them, but some are simply kids they see each week in Sunday school.  It's taken a long time to start asking other kids what their names are and what they're interested in, but we are finally arriving at that place in their social lives.

And when a friend recently ditched Zach again for someone else, Zach didn't allow it to define him, but instead shrugged his shoulders and said, "I think that's just the way he is."  He's beginning to understand who and whose he is, and is resisting the enemy's lies that every bad thing has something to do with him.

As we quickly rattled off half a dozen ways that each kid grew over the summer, I was awed by the work God has done in their lives.  These are areas that we have prayed over....and sometimes shed tears and lost sleep over.  And God has met them right where they were at, and given them just what they needed.  I cannot even begin to imagine all that He will do in these next nine months of the school year, as we are partnered with outstanding school and Sunday school teachers.  I'm excited and so full of hope.  I won't wish these months away, but I do look forward to who my guys will grow into as a 3rd grader and kindergartner.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

He teaches me...

I vividly remember sitting on my deck in the summer of 2003, very pregnant with my first child, talking with my sister-in-law on the phone about my quickly approaching motherhood.  As we chatted, she said something that has played out time and again in the years since.

"Being a mother is like walking around with your heart beating outside your body."

She was so right.  My heart most definitely feels as if it's on the outside of my body sometimes.  And never more than when I'm watching my kids suffer.

As I watched one of my boys writhing in agony yesterday, completely overcome with anxiety, fear and doubt, my heart was breaking...  All I could do was remind him, over and over again, of the truth.  God made you exactly as you are.  He gave you talents and areas of difficulty - this is by design.  He wants to use you, just the way you are.  Honor God by being you.  In your weakness, He is strong.  God wouldn't ask you to do something and then abandon you there alone.  Don't panic, pray.

Don't panic.  Pray.  How many times have I gotten that wrong?  But, I digress...

We prayed over the situation with our guy yesterday.  He sobbed, he nearly hyperventilated, he rubbed his eyes red, and he got a headache...  But, eventually, he got back up, blew his nose, and determined to trust God.  He began to prepare himself for the task at hand, through prayer and practice.  At first, the practicing was pretty puny, but by the end he was completely on board.  That night, he went to bed with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

And this morning, he did it.  He led worship in kids church.

For my guy, this is a really big deal.  He does not like performing.  He does not like eyes on him.  He does not like risking "failure" or embarrassment.

But he loves God.  And he's excited to let God work in him and through him.  And he loves worship.  And he loves his brother...and wants to be a part of his big kid church experience.

So often, I marvel at how we're able to coach him through a situation because we have the knowledge, but then he turns around and teaches me so very much about faith, courage and obedience as he actually does it.

My young guy is something else.  I always say that he's going to be a really remarkable long as I can get him to adulthood.  But, really, he's pretty remarkable already.

I could not be more impressed or inspired by him.

Today I praise God for his constant presence and comfort.  For the truths found in his Word, and for the abundant encouragement from the people in our lives.  And for passion....especially passions that are simply about jubilation, and are not necessarily areas we feel gifted in.