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Why?

Why?

Why did Adam Lanza shoot 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut?

Why did he target children with whom he had no known connection?

This question is on every person’s mind and lips in the aftermath.  If we knew WHY, we could perhaps prevent the next tragedy, right?

No one will ever know for sure why he entered Sandy Hook Elementary and killed so many people before he took his own life.  But we can hazard some guesses.

Some will say it’s guns.  But guns have been part of our culture since our country began. And it’s not just assault weapons. Case in point?  Switzerland requires every adult male to have a military-issued assault rifle, and they train them on using it as part of their national militia.  And their gun crime rate is much smaller than ours. So we can’t lay it solely at the feet of the availability of assault weapons, although many people rightfully question whether citizens really *need* unfettered access to weapons that are intended for the sole purpose of killing other humans.

Some will say it’s symptomatic of our broken healthcare system.  But arguably, no healthcare system in the world or history has ever effectively tackled the challenges of mental health.  If somiething was never perfect, it can’t be broken.  Maybe the perfect system has yet to be invented, but we have countless high-functioning autistic members of society, as well as countless who suffer from anxiety, depression and serious mental illness.  Many of whom do not and will never pose a threat to anyone. So it’s not simply the lack of healthcare…which is available, albeit not free.

Some will say that it’s the proliferation of violent video games, movies and rap lyrics that have led us to view killing with jaded eyes.  That issue warrants further exploration, but the same people who champion limiting our Second Amendment right to bear arms are “up in arms” when anyone breathes a word about limiting their First Amendment right to free speech, even though that right was clearly intended to allow us free speech against our rulers; nothing more, nothing less.

Some will say it’s because we’ve removed God from schools and society. It is apparent that turning our backs on godly principles has made us less moral and respectful in the years since we acquiesced to the demands of those who reject Him in their own lives.  However, I’d say God is right where He wishes to be, whether we acknowledge Him or ignore Him or refuse to believe in Him.

We can cast about all we want, and will probably never come to a consensus on an answer to the question of “Why?”

As a society, we cannot shoulder responsibility for Adam Lanza’s actions that dreadful day.  Regardless of what factored into his life and worldview, he alone chose his path.  And we cannot legislate enough rules or laws that will guarantee another person doesn’t follow the same path, whether it’s with guns, bombs, poison gas or any other tool they choose to carry out a horrific plan.

At the same time, as individuals, we cannot continue to ignore our responsibility to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we all followed that simple but oh-so-hard-to-live principle, these issues would vanish without any need for legislation or rules.

Guns would be viewed as a lethal responsibility of those who sell and buy them.

Mental health would become a personal responsibility for everyone, and a family responsibility when an individual is too fractured to make choices for their well-being.  We would have to accept the need for institutions and we would provide humane and dignified treatment of those who need to be in that environment for their safety and ours.

Violent movies, games and songs would wither on the vine because people would simply choose to not buy, look or listen to them. The economic forces would efficiently deal them out of society.

And our children, whether they are 6-week-old fetuses or 6-year-old first graders, would not be harmed by anyone.

So I guess there is an answer to the question, “Why?”  It’s just not an answer that all are willing to hear or accept.

I pray – fervently – that on this eve of the day the world acknowledges that Jesus entered the world, that we would all ask ourselves why we don’t strive harder to live this simple truth?  And why don’t we share the good news of Jesus’ teachings with others?

Happy pondering,
Terry

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Why I love third graders

I recently informed my new third grade Bible class students that I have taught the third grade at our church since Swimmer Girl was their age. Which means this is my tenth year teaching third grade. Which also means I was teaching this class since before these students were born.  Whoa.

I’d like to think that fact impressed them, but I suspect some of them were doing some sketchy mental math and concluding that means I’m REALLY old.

My age aside, I am firmly convinced that third grade is really and truly great.

Third grade is the Best. Grade. Ever.

Not convinced? Consider these criteria:

  • They are old enough to grasp some fairly complex ideas and facts and young enough to have fun doing it.
  • They are mature enough to get through class without a bathroom break.  If they do need a break, they can go unaccompanied. ( That is HUGE for a teacher – can I get an Amen?)
  • They are big enough to play challenging games, but they are still shorter than me.
  • They are willing learners, and when all else fails, they can be bribed with Jolly Ranchers and Oriental Trading trinkets.
  • They bring their teacher sweet gifts at Christmas-time. They ooh and ahh when I give them their own Christmas mug with homemade marshmallows.  We all believe in Santa and we all pray for snow and snow days.

We are like peas and carrots, my third graders and I.

During our time together, they let me into their world by telling me about their sports or academic accomplishments.  I tell them about my dog and my family. We talk smack about our favorite college and pro teams. (Football is a fabulous time of year.)  Each class writes a story on my heart that remains long after they move on. Best of all, “my”girls greet me with hugs for years after they are in my class.  The boys grin and wave “hey” when we cross paths, even when they enter middle and high school. My ego would like to think  it’s because I’m an awesome teacher, but I know it’s because they are awesome kids.

Even though third grade was arguably a challenging year for me growing up, it’s the age I seem to be at ease with now. (Which could be the Santa factor…)  But whatever it is, I adore watching them begin that awkward transition between young child and tweener – they are my pride and joy, and every year I say I’ve got the best class ever, because they are.

Of course, this is Week 3 of the fall quarter.  By spring, I might be marking off  the days until promotion Sunday rolls around.

Nahhhh.

Here’s hoping that for every class, there is a teacher who thinks their students are the bees’ knees and and that he or she has the absolute best grade ever.

Happy teaching,
Terry

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The final firsts and lasts

Remember your child’s firsts?

First tooth, first roll over, first bite of food, first step…and the biggest first of all:  the first day of school.  As parents we anticipate those milestones and celebrate them with delight.  But as fun as they are, we’re inevitably looking ahead to the next first.  And if/when additional children come along, their firsts go by at warp speed, sometimes becoming one big blur.

So what happens when your last child does things for the final time?  They are moments that fill a parent’s heart with pride and joy, but it seems more important to cherish them than to look beyond them to the next milestone.  Swimmer Girl is several weeks into her senior year.  The first day of school slipped up on us but we made time for a picture of her holding her first day of school, before she threw her new backpack in her trusty little SUV and headed out the driveway.

I love bittersweet. I really do.

That hasn’t always been the case, though. Learning to love bittersweet was an acquired taste with chocolate.  You don’t scarf it down like milk chocolate.  It should be eaten slowly so you experience all the nuances of the flavor and texture.

Bittersweet has proven to be part of the parent “package” too.  Raising children seems like a never-ending job when they are tiny and rambunctious, but when they are nearly grown you suddenly realize there is precious little time left and it runs out faster than sand between your fingers.  Mr. Official and I have been extraordinarily fortunate:  our children’s teenage years have had a few bumps and moments that tested our patience but in retrospect, they were minor and were far outweighed by the joys of watching our children grow into young adults, with their own ideas, goals, hopes and dreams.

Now that school is in full swing, we’ve had a few “lasts” – it was the last time I had a stack of registration paperwork to fill out, and the first (my last) orientation meeting for swim team. She recently emceed a beauty pageant she participated in last year, finishing out that activity with a flourish.

Applications are off to her top choice schools, and literature pours in daily from many other colleges and universities.  Football season is in full swing, so Friday nights are busy for the girl and her daddy – sometimes at the same school, but often not.

Our final fall break trip is planned.  For our grand finale, we’re doing the Big Apple.  It will be her first trip to NYC, but probably our last mother/daughter getaway, at least for a while – college doesn’t lend itself to slipping off for a beach week in October.

Once the swim season is underway in earnest, we’ll careen through fall into Middle Son’s graduation in mid-December and then the holidays.  It will be a whirlwind year of last firsts. After we ring in 2013, we will be in the homestretch to her graduation in mid-May.

Until then, I’ll continue to savor the bittersweet flavor of final firsts and lasts.

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Have you seen this sign?parentn promise

Unless you totally ignore Pinterest and Facebook, you’ve probably seen it or one like it.

I’ve seen it, read it, and smiled in commiseration and support for parents who are willing to live it.  And I’ve also said a quick and silent prayer of thanks;  for the most part, I have rarely  felt the need to flip out, hunt them down, or otherwise be my children’s worst nightmare.

But Swimmer Girl learned this past weekend that we do sometimes stalk her.

Well, not just her.

More like the entire youth group.

And okay, it really wasn’t stalking, so much as being in the right place at the right time.

We were coming back from an overnight trip to Cleveland, Georgia and passing through the Ocoee River valley late Saturday afternoon. We knew our youth group (including Swimmer Girl) had been white water rafting on the Ocoee.  So as I swung us up, down, around and over the hilly route that follows the river (they don’t call them the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for nothing), Mr. Official kept craning his neck and looking at every raft, saying, “I bet that’s them!”  Finally we reached the last few excursions and he gave up the search. A few minutes later, he spotted the sign pointing to Outoor Adventure Rafting’s facility, which is the guide group we usually use.  We had to check, right?  As we pulled up to their parking area, we spotted our church’s bus. And at that exact moment, our youth group was grabbing their clothes and hitting the showers before heading home.

Our youth minister was not surprised to see us. I doubt much of anything surprises him these days.  But the look on Swimmer Girl’s face was a combination of surprise and…that funny look when you see someone out of context, and it’s taking you a minute to figure out who they are and why they are there.  We had the element of surprise working in our favor, but I know how she felt.

There comes a time in every parent/child relationship when you first really see each other as independent, autonomous people who lead separate lives, albeit with some major overlap and intersections.

It is a strange sensation to run into an acquaintance when and where you least expect it.  But for parents and children, to do so marks the end of the first chapter in your lives, and the beginning of the next. You begin to see each other as people, rather than strictly as children or parents.

For parents who are still in the stalking, flipping out and lecturing years, I salute you and encourage you to remain strong and resolute. Because someday, you too will be able to look at your child as an adult whose life no longer requires your constant presence.  And when you run into each other unexpectedly, it will hopefully be a very pleasant coincidence.  Because timing really is everything.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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The parenting dance

When our children are born, we embark on a dance with them.  In the first few days, weeks and months, we take the lead and hold them tightly, swaying and rocking, teaching them to trust us and accept our style.  Then little by little, we begin alternating between holding them close and giving them a bit of space to call their own.  When this dance goes well, both parent and child instinctively understand the ebb and flow and accept its pace and rhythm.  It does not always go well, though; there are times we want to cling when they are ready to pull away. We will step on each others toes from time to time.

I have danced this dance with our two sons; stubbing my toe a few times,  learning along the way when to let them take the lead, and blinking back the proud tears when the music ended and they slipped out of my arms and into adulthood.

And now my mother/daughter dance with Swimmer Girl is nearing the end of our song.  Next year at this time, we will be anticipating graduation and making preparations for her to be off to college in the fall.

Our dance has been nearly flawless – we have rarely found ourselves at odds over how it should go.  I count my blessings for that; I know all too well that the teenage years can be a terribly tangled and tortured dance.

She and I spent last weekend in Atlanta, just us girls.  We took in a late-night showing of the “Hunger Games” movie on its opening night, shopped until we dropped on Saturday, then finished with a Sunday morning stroll in beautiful Piedmont Park and lunch with a new friend of mine. But more than the things we did was the time we had together.  We laughed, we cried, we talked at length about our relationship with God and with each other; about our hopes for the future, our fears and worries.  And I promised her that for as long as she wants, every so often I’ll come scoop her up for a quick turn around this dance floor.

For parents of babies and young children, all I can say is enjoy the dance. It will be both the longest and shortest dance of your life.  And never forget with each step, you’re teaching them how to dance. Listen carefully for the changes in music; they are subtle cues to give them space to learn how to lead, a little at a time.  And when you take the final turn with them, you can be proud that you’ve taught them how to keep dancing even without you as their constant partner.

Happy dancing,

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“Thanksgiving” by Norman Rockwell

I wrapped up my Thankful Thursdays series last week.  I’ll let you decide if it was intentional or a miscalculation.  (Before you decide, remember I do hold degrees in accounting and finance.  On the other hand, I’d rather balance a buzzing chainsaw than our checkbook.)

Anyhoo.


The six-week countdown was a good reminder of just how much of my life falls under the blanket heading of “blessings.”  But they are/were pretty general in nature, and occasionally I suspect God likes to hear some specific thank-you’s from me.  So here’s just the tip of the iceberg of detailed things I’m grateful for, from A to Z. Some of these are more profound than others, but really – shouldn’t we be grateful for everything we have been given, whether it’s inconsequential or completely essential to our life?

A is for Anthony Shea.  Oldest son, owner of Sadie, my beloved grandpuppy.  He was our parenting guinea pig, and seems to have survived his childhood with a fairly well-adjusted outlook on life, and has become a confident, fun and capable young man.

B is for books.  Starting with the Bible and winding my way through cookbooks, Dr. Seuss, my beloved literary giants, even frothy fiction on the beach.  Books are one of life’s greatest and simplest pleasures.  The smell of bookstores and books, new or old, the way the spine creaks when you open a book for the first time.  And the way a well-crafted story draws you into it, and makes you feel and think differently when you’ve finished reading it.

C is for chocolate.  It is and will always be my favorite flavor in the whole wide world.  Creamy milk or smooth and dark – it’s all good.

D is for David Brice.  Younger son, and the child everyone would vote as most like his mama in so many ways.  He too somehow survived his “wonder years” under our parentage and has a way of looking at things that is uniquely his own.  Life with Brice will never, ever be dull.

E is for Eden:  my birth family.  My grandparents, aunts, uncles and my parents and brother all bear this name and they surround me with love, and I love ’em back.  Without them, I wouldn’t be!

F is for football.  It took me a long time to be able to say I love the game, but recently on a trip home (after another frustrating defeat), the car was filled with football talk about the game and upcoming high school matchups that would lead up to the state final championship. And I realized I was in my element.

G is for gardening.  There is something about watching seeds become seedlings and the smell of fresh-turned dirt in the spring that brings me in tune with the One who created me and everything I see when I’m down on hands and knees, tending to things of this earth.

H is for Highland Heights Church of Christ. My spiritual family.  May God bless every one of my brothers and sisters.  It’s not about the place, it’s about the people and the faith and hope we share.

I is for ice cream.  Homemade is best.  A hot fudge sundae can cure almost anything, and an offer to slip out for some ice cream can make an ordinary evening rather extraordinary.

J is for Jesus.  He is my savior, my king, my teacher, my brother.  Everything I need to know about living in this world, I can learn from His example and teachings.  Without Him, I would have no hope for anything beyond this life.

K is for kisses from the dogs.  Puppy kisses are wet and sloppy and their doggy breath is stinky.  But they love me and  never tire of letting me know they do.  The trust and unconditional love of a dog is a treasured gift.

L is for Lea.  Many years ago, my husband’s family opened their hearts and shared their name with me. My mother-in-law is an amazing and precious woman, my brothers- and sister-in-law are as close as blood.  You don’t marry your spouse’s family, but I think I got a pretty good deal when I married into this one.

M is for marshmallows. Roasted and toasted, or all soft and gooey floating on hot, hot chocolate.  Everyone’s life should include some puffy goodness every now and again.

N is for needlework.  From the time I was a child, the women in my life taught me to use my hands to sew, embroider, crochet and knit.  Admittedly, I am not an artistic person by nature, but with a needle in hand, I can create something useful, soft to touch, and pretty to look at.  I’m grateful to those who taught me, and I’ve enjoyed teaching others.  It’s a pass-along gift from one generation to the next.

O is for the Olympics. For thousands of years, humans have pushed their bodies in order to compete against each other.  Watching Olympic athletes is both inspiring and deluding – they make it look so effortless we sometimes forget how much blood, sweat, pain and tears it took them to reach the place where they are.  But it’s a marvelous tradition that has stood the test of time, and continues to challenge us to be better tomorrow than we are today.

P is for polish.  I have a plethora of polishing and cleaning concoctions.  The smell of furniture polish says the house is clean.  Squeaky shiny mirrors and doors let light sparkle and glow.  The simple act of buffing and polishing something from dull and dirty to a soft sheen or high polish reminds me of how God works to remove my rough edges and and dirty spots.  Not to mention, a fresh coat of polish on my toes can make me happy from head to toe.

Q is for Q-tips.  Pure genius.  So small, so soft, and yet so totally useful. And cheap.  Really.  Just try to imagine life without them and then you’ll be thankful for them, too.

R is for rainy days.  There is something healing and soothing in hearing rain drop to earth.  It’s a cool respite in the middle of summer, a gentle noise that can lull us to sleep.  Naps on a rainy day?  Pure, simple pleasure.

S is for Shelby. Our youngest child and only daughter.  Swimmer girl is a beautiful creature inside and out.  I am humbled by her faith, and awed by her capacity to love and understand others, and her love of God and life. Sooner than I care to think about, she will be ready to strike out on her own, and I can’t wait to see how her life turns out.

T is for Tony.  Aka Mr. Official.  And truly, my better half.  God must have thought a lot of me to put this man in my life.  There’s so much more I could say, but if you know him, you know why I love him with my whole heart.

U is for uniforms, especially those worn by men and women who defend and protect us.  Since ancient times, soldiers have worn clothing that sets them apart from civilians, and I am always proud and humbled when I find myself standing next to a member of our military, whether they are in their dress blues or whites, or fatigues.  They have stepped up to the line and set themselves apart by their actions and their attire, and they have my undying admiration and respect.

V is for vacations. In my life, I’ve been privileged to visit from sea to shining sea and quite a few of the places in between.  The thrill of packing in anticipation of a trip, experiencing new vistas and foods, finding just the right keepsake to bring home, and finally returning to our own beds after some time away gives us memories that last a lifetime, and sometimes a new-found perspective.

W is for water.  It’s not only what we’re largely made of, but it replenishes us when we drink it, invigorates us when we jump in, cleanses and calms children (and adults) before bedtime, and reminds us of God’s power and presence when we see his handiwork in thundering waterfalls, mirror-like lakes and pounding ocean waves.

X is for Xerox and X-rays, and all the other marvels of the technological age we live in, where we can replicate anything at the touch of a button, and peer inside our bodies and see babies growing, pinpoint cancerous tumors to remove, and see broken bones that can be made good as new.  We live in a truly amazing era.  And what we know now simply points out how much more we don’t know.

Y is for yoga.  It is part physical, creating flexibility, strength and balance.  It’s also part mental, soothing and calming with steady breathing and focused attention.  An hour of yoga is an hour well spent.

Z is for the zillions of blessings I haven’t begun to list here.  Try to count your blessings, I dare you. They are infinite and they just keep coming, so keep enjoying the life you have and thank God for the the good things He sends your way.  As Harriet Beecher Stowe so eloquently put it,

“Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude.”

Today is the big day.  It starts with the Macy’s Day Parade (shout out to Evan O’Neal, who will be marching in it!) and turkey and all the trimmings. I pray for safe travels for all of us going “over the river and through the woods,” and an edifying and peaceful day of giving thanks for all we have.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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Hanging up my hack license

Swimmer girl turns 16 today. We are very excited for her – but not as excited as she is, of course. Among all the other things that come with turning 16, she will soon have her driver’s license.

And for me, that means my taxi-driver days will finally draw to a close after more than a quarter-century of commission.   In those years, I have hauled my babies and toddlers and children and adolescents (and their friends) to every place they needed and wanted to go. I have put over 250,000 miles on four cars in the process.  We’ve eaten, spilled, upchucked; changed diapers and clothes; laughed, cried and argued and fussed in my mom-taxis.  We’ve had a few roadside breakdowns and a couple chats with policemen and troopers,  but thankfully no accidents with a baby or child on board.

If you’re a young mom reading this, I can promise you this:  the years and miles will fly by. Your taste in music will adapt to theirs, and vice-versa.   We have explored the full extent of the radio dial, tuning in and out of country, jazz, hip-hop, Christian and dabbled in rap and alternative.  Classic rock is our shared language.  We’ve belted out southern rock together, argued over who-sang-that-song, and deciphered lyrics more times than I can count.   Looking back, I think we were blessed to not have built-in DVD players and portable DS players at our disposal.  Yes, we had our share of backseat territory disputes and petty squabbles borne out of boredom.  But in the close confines of the car, you have a captive audience – just unplug them from the electronics occasionally and you might be surprised by what they confide in you on an otherwise silent ride.

I have cemented my relationship with my adolescent children just by sitting in the driver’s seat – many deep, heart- and soul-searching conversations with each child have taken place in the car, and most of them started out as nothing more than a ride home from school or church, or a quick jaunt to town, just mom and kid. 

So enjoy your taxi driver status while it lasts – because it doesn’t last forever.

Happy -and safe – travels,

P.S. – Happy birthday, baby girl.  One pink velvet cake coming up!

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