Growing Up as a “Mean Mom” … {and give-away}

DSCN1598 (935x1024)I had the privilege this evening of praying with a friend. The focus of our prayer? Our children – hers grown, mine half-grown. Or so it seems. Does the growth factor really ever come to an end? Does our growing up have an expiration date? I don’t think so. In that sense, we’re not so unlike our children. We, ourselves, are just big kids, a few steps ahead of the pack coming up behind us.

I’ve been a parent for the past twenty-six years – over half my life. I’m still at it with two children under my roof. In these almost three decades of doing mothering, I’m not sure anything about parenting has gotten easier. I’m certainly a calmer person today than I was twenty-six years ago. Years of living and growing beneath the shadowing wings of grace have afforded me this gift. Even so, I suppose there are times now when my parenting (as a job) has grown stale; day-old parenting as well as day-old bread isn’t as tasty as a loaf fresh from the oven.

This is why I’m thankful for my friend, Joanne Kraft’s, recently released book The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. I didn’t secure my copy thinking I had a whole lot of new mothering tips to learn; instead, I knew I would learn something further. I would have the opportunity to lean in and to listen to my friend’s heart. I trust her heart, and anytime you and I pull up a chair alongside a heart we can trust, we learn. We expand. We grow … up and beyond and further into the person God has ordained us to be.

Joanne’s book reignited something inside of me – a push of sorts to be more engaged in these final years of parenting the two children beneath my roof. The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids is not about getting your “mean” on. Instead, it is a grace-filled invitation to invest in the everyday worlds of our children and to say, “I’m here. I care. We’re in this together, and by God’s grace, I’m going to help you walk these next steps successfully.” Mean moms don’t leave the parenting to others. Mean moms fight hard for the hearts and futures of their children. I, for one, needed a reminder along these lines.

Did you know that Mean Moms …

• Walk by faith
• Put Marriage First
• Pray
• Model Honor
• Don’t Take Sides
• Make’em Work
• Use Their Words
• Say No to TV
• Slay Goliath
• Don’t Speak the Language of Busy
• Mean Business
• Embrace Failure
• Rule Technology
• Talk Purity
• Drag Kids to Church
• Eradicate Entitlement
• Friend Their Teens
• Focus on the Future

I didn’t either. Oh sure, I’ve been modeling most of these behaviors for years. I just didn’t know what to call myself. Thanks to Joanne, I now know. I am unequivocally a member of the Mean Mom Team. Why? Because as Joanne says in her book (pg. 18),

“I’m not raising a kid. I’m raising an adult.”

DSCN0766 - Copy (1024x791)And I, for one, want to give my kids the necessary tools to become necessary adults in a society crying out for sound minds, good hearts, and godly souls. My children are my gift to the world. The grown-ups they become are a direct reflection of the intentional, mothering investments I’m willing to make now … today. Their growing up doesn’t wait until I have it together. Neither does mine. Growing up, instead, happens along the way and as we go. Accordingly, I pull up a chair alongside my friend, and I pull up my heart alongside my kids. Together, we say grace around the table to our Father who gives grace and who lends his strength to our growing-up days.

I don’t know if, years from now, my kids will remember me as a “mean mom.” That label is irrelevant to me. What does matter to me is that I am remembered as a mother who walked their journeys with them and who, in the end, led them straight to the front porch of heaven.

Thank you, Joanne, for the permission and for the invitation to revisit my mothering heart. This is rich privilege. They (Nick, Colton, Jadon, and Amelia) are my legacy. As always …

Peace for the journey,

PS: Leave a comment for an opportunity to win an official “Mean Moms” travel mug AND an autographed copy of Joanne’s book. (USA addresses only.) Even if you think your parenting years are behind you or you simply need a shot of parenting adrenaline, I promise that there’s something in this book for you! It’s a strong encouragement for all of us.

80% written in red …

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Quietly, she approached my desk and inquired about her quiz grade. I perused the papers in front of me and found hers.

“You made a 76.”

Her distress was apparent, burying her head in the palms of her hands. Normally, a 76 wouldn’t warrant such a response from this student, but today was different. When I asked her as to the reason behind her tears, she quietly responded, “My momma told me she was going to give me a whippin’ if I got anything lower than an 80.”

A smile formed across my heart; not because I was happy about her grade or her distress but rather because I know her precious momma and just how liberally the word “whippin’” gets thrown around down here in the South. I don’t think her momma would have whipped her for 76, but the threat was enough to spark a reaction in my student’s heart. I leaned over my desk and whispered to her, “What grade would spare you a whippin’?”

“An 80.”

I reached for my red pen, marked out the 76 and replaced it with an 80. Our eyes locked, and we shared a tender moment as grace rained down to replace shame. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy – being able to erase what’s earned and, instead, to replace it with what’s free. I was reminded, once again, of the trust I’ve been given this year—to live my life wide-open before these young lives and to set the stage for, what I hope to be, futures lived with Jesus and with a rich understanding about his love, grace, and unmerited favor.

This moment arrives to my heart, too, as fresh grace—a red pen held in the hand of the Master Teacher who is willing to erase my whippin’ and, instead, grant me my reprieve. When my dignity (and my behind) is held in the hands of the Master, I can always count on grace. Not that I press the issue of my “76s”, serve up my “less” when I could do better; that would cheapen the gift. But on those days when a 76 is all I have to give, well, I can trust my Teacher to cover the rest of it, be it four points or more.

I don’t know if my student will remember this day in years to come, but I hope that she does … not for my sake but for hers. That somewhere down the road when she’s tempted to think that her good isn’t good enough (that a whippin’s coming because she’s failed to meet some standard) she’ll think upon today and remember that she’s worth more than what she deserves.

She’s worth God’s Son – a cross, some nails, a grave, and all hell – all because he loves her and has called her enough.

The red pen is in his hands, and he has changed her grade. He’s changed mine as well.

Grace. It looks good in red. It feels even better. As always …

Peace (and grace … and freely flowing red pens) for the journey,

Feeding Time

11935159_s“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.” –John 6:10

 

Plenty of grass.

Of all the many facets that make up the miracle known as the “Feeding of the 5000” – this mention of grass is the one upon which my heart lingers. In days past, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on the other (some would say more important) components of the story—the boy and his surrender of loaves and fishes, the size of the crowd, the multiplication of sustenance, the distribution therein, and the collection of leftovers. Each one of them is a miracle framed within the bigger picture. I suppose there were other miracles that day … 5000+ homes represented, lives changed, stories rewritten … how could there not be?

Wherever Jesus walks, whomever Jesus touches, this is the stuff of miracles.

But for me, today, it’s the green grass and the abundance therein that captures my attention (I’m thankful for Mark’s Gospel which includes the detail of greenness.). Like the 5000 of so long ago, I, too, follow Jesus to the hillside—a remote region outside the buzz of the city—in hopes of a miracle for myself. Not a big one as miracles go. Nothing front page worthy. Just a little green grass that belongs to me and a little time with Jesus. To hear his voice and to be fed by his hand, well, this is the miracle that I’m interested in.

In a life that is often too busy, too distracted, too worn out from worry, and too willing to sit down in pastures less green and more polluted, it is difficult to follow the Shepherd’s lead to the other side of the lake, much less make the climb to greener pastures. Following after Jesus requires deep devotion—a strong resolve to be where he is and an even stronger follow-through to get there … to stay there until the soul’s hunger is satisfied in his meadows of lush abundance.

Oh the meadow, rich and green,
It waits for me beyond this scene,
That blocks my view and crowds my heart,
That stifles me from taking part …

In grace abundant from Your hand,
Loaves and fishes at Your command;
Given freely in this place,
This patch of green, this gift of space.

To call my own, my time with Thee,
A sacred spot reserved for me;
To stretch my limbs, to rest my soul,
To find the peace that makes me whole.

I see it there, just up the hill,
A tiny dot of verdant thrill;
Some holy ground within heart’s reach,
It won’t be long now, I’m at the beach.

I’ll make the climb, I’ll do my part;
You’ll do the rest, it’s in your heart.
To give me best, to fill my ache,
My longed-for miracle beside the lake.

From long ago to moments now,
Your grass still sways in humble bow;
To receive those pilgrims weary-worn,
To nurture aches, to bind what’s torn.

Indeed the meadow, rich and green!
It waits for all beyond this scene.
So make the choice, do the climb;
Lift up your eyes, it’s feeding time.  {f. elaine olsen, 2-21-15, all rights reserved.}

It’s feeding time, friends. I’ll meet you on the hillside and, together, we’ll rest and we’ll dine in holy measure from the Father’s hand. As always …

Peace for the journey,

 Photo credit – Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

from doing to breathing and the grace in between

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“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’” –John 1:37-38

As of late, my pen has been silent. There hasn’t been room enough in my life for words.

Just doing. Mostly, just doing my job. It consumes my waking hours, which is most of them … all twenty-four of them. Whether I’m upright or horizontal, I’m thinking about my fourteen fourth-graders. I am exhausted. A life of perpetual doing doesn’t always leave room enough for breathing. Too much doing and the spirit goes dry. Life without breath feels like death to a soul, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly suffocating.

And crying. And praying. And asking God through choke-filled sobs for this doing to start making sense, even one little bit.

My family’s been praying too. On Thursday night, Billy and the kids huddled together upstairs on my behalf and sent God their requests in sacred whispers. They just wanted me to find the air that I so desperately needed … for a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow over me.

On Friday God answered their quiet whispers as loudly as he could.

Every school day begins with a Bible lesson (one of the great privileges of teaching at a Christian school). I consider this to be the best part of our day together. I’m in my element when I’m telling God’s story to others. In the first half of the year, we covered Genesis, the Christmas story, and have recently begun to talk about Jesus’ early, ministry years. This week’s focus has been on those first disciples who took those first steps toward following Jesus. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the question that Jesus asked of Andrew and John at their initial meeting:

“What do you want?” or as the King James’ version states, “What seek ye?”.

I asked my students to consider that question, to have those ancient words jump off the pages of holy writ and to imagine God asking the same question of them.

“What do you want, fourth graders? What seek ye?”

In our moments of morning contemplation, I could see that my students were thinking – that just maybe this question was meant also for them and not simply for those disciples in those early days of kingdom expansion. This was a good way to start the day; regardless of any drama that might follow, a solid foundation had been laid.

Fast forward a few hours. The students were finishing up a reading quiz when one of them approached my desk and asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. Her distress was apparent, and I immediately took her aside to assess the situation. We’d barely made it to the hallway before the tears began to collect in her sweet brown eyes. Quietly, tenderly, and most assuredly, this precious young girl added words to the moment. In doing so, she’s added a thousand more words to my heart.

“Mrs. Olsen, I need God.”

Let that settle in on you, friends. Just be with us there in that moment. Don’t rush past it. Moments like these should be held up to the light and cradled … celebrated in the heart. Really, could there be a more worthy, purer confession than this?

In the minutes that followed her disclosure, we sat together in the hallway where we talked about her need and about our God. And then as smoothly and as naturally as breathing, we prayed together and the kingdom of God expanded … just one little bit. For everything that hasn’t made sense in these past five months of doing my job, Friday’s one thing made perfect sense, and I am stunned by such privilege.

Every tear I have cried; every prayer I have prayed. Every word I have spoken; every plan I have made. If this one little bit is the sum total reason for God calling me out of my comfort zone and pushing me into the middle of discomfort, then this is enough fresh air to keep me breathing in the season to come.

Tonight I hear the Father asking me a familiar question, the one he asked his first disciples 2000 years ago and the one I asked my students earlier in the week:

“What do you want, Elaine? What seek ye?”

My response?

“This, Father. Just this.”

How beautiful this grace that is sufficient and all-powerful. It reaches past and beyond my weakness and perfects the imperfect. One little bit … one little heart at a time.

On Friday, I had the joy of welcoming a new child into God’s family. I’m so glad that she has Him and that He has her. She doesn’t know it yet, but her best days are ahead of her. With Jesus, her best days are yet to be. The multiplication tables and helping-verb lists she’s mastered in the 4th grade may not be remembered in years to come. But this one little moment?

Well, it will never be forgotten. It’s etched into eternity. This is forever.

Peace for the journey, sweet girl. God is with you. God is for you. God loves you.

I am too – with you, for your, love you.
{aka – Mrs. Olsen}

The Road Home ~ a Christmas Miracle


the road home

We have an annual tradition of opening up our Christmas gifts to one another at the same time … over the phone. She lives in northern Ohio. I live in eastern NC. We’ve been friends for over twenty years, and every time we talk or get together, it’s as if we’ve never been apart. Yesterday was no different.

Her package arrived at my doorstep with the afternoon post. My gift to her arrived in Ohio earlier in the week. I called her after supper, and the unwrapping began. I went first and was immediately struck by the sentimentality of her gift to me.

(How did she get the artist to paint that picture … the one I took three years ago when I was up for a visit and we went out for a ride through Amish country? Amazing work. She must have paid someone to paint this.)

I voiced my joy and my obvious gratitude for such a sentimental treasure. My friend was perplexed.

“Elaine, I know you like Amish things, and I remember us taking that drive out in Amish country, but there are hundreds of paths and roads with that exact scene. I don’t even remember the picture you took; I just happened upon this man’s shop in Navarre, liked his work, and selected a print I thought you would like. There were dozens and dozens of scenes to choose from, but I kept coming back to this one. It just spoke to me, and I knew it was the one to get for you.”

Coincidence? Never. To prove my point, I scoured through the pictures on my computer and found the one that closely resembled the scene in the painting. I sent it to my friend. She began coming around to my point of view. We discussed the similarities, but it wasn’t until I pointed out the curve of the tree in the front left corner of the picture that I knew we had a match.

the road home my copy

What are the odds? Of all the gifts she could have given me this Christmas, she gave me this one. She never made the connection between her gift and the picture I’d taken three years ago. She didn’t need to. God did it for her. God did it for me. Maybe … even God did it for the artist.

After we finished our conversation, I did some research on the painter, Billy Jacobs. He’s a local resident in Navarre, OH, and lives within a couple miles of my friend’s home. His work is stunning. I’m not much into paintings, but his work could easily become my new favorite addiction. While visiting his website, I connected with his facebook page and left him a message about my God-incident. I even posted the original picture I had taken three years ago to his wall. Within an hour, he had responded to my post, confirming what I already suspected and asking me if I remembered the location where that photo was taken. The scene was the inspiration for his artwork, but he’s never been able to find that exact location again in all of his travels throughout Amish country. My friend and I racked our brains, trying to retrace the steps we took back in 2011, and I was able to give Billy a general vicinity of where I think he’ll be able to rediscover … wait for it …

The Road Home.

Yep. That’s the title of his painting. Coincidence? Never.

And so to this Advent season and to my thoughts and my heart that are full tonight of memory, of yearning, of hope, and of expectation for …

the road home.

Isn’t that the Christmas road? Isn’t that the sum-total of the Bethlehem search … the pilgrimage to the manger? A step or two back in time in order to take a step or two forward in faith. To find that which is longed for and that, with the finding, comes fresh inspiration, fresh resolve to keep moving forward in expectation of home.

It’s but a few steps from here. Not as far off as we think. For Billy, his search might lead him down the Jericho Road toward Kidron, OH (the latest, best pinpoint for the location – I’m not kidding …). For me, well, my search will take me a bit further. To the Kidron Valley (the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem and that separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives) and beyond. This is where Jesus finished his earthly life; this is the place where he exited earthen sod to be at home with his Father forever.

Jesus Christ. The Road Home. My beginning. My now. My next. He is where I’m headed this Christmas. How grateful I am for the Christmas miracle that found its way to my front porch to lead me to the manger so that I might, once again, behold the Savior in all his glory.

Blessings, friends, as you travel the road to Bethlehem this year. May the miracle of Christmas renew your faith, strengthen your resolve, and quicken your search for the road home. And as always, may God grant you his abiding peace for the journey.

Merry Christmas,

PS: If you have some time, visit Billy’s website and tell me your favorite. As for me, I have my eyes set on A Light in the Stable! (Hint, hint – my Billy Olsen – wouldn’t it look great over our mantle next Christmas?) Also, another interesting detail – my friend’s name is Juanita. Billy Jacob’s mother’s name? Yep. Juanita. Isn’t God cool?