I have always loved school.
The day I graduated from college I wanted to go back. Each morning on my way to work and each evening on my drive home I passed my Alma Mater and the pit in my stomach would often bubble up into tears. Part of it was the mundaneness of my work and even the remote possibility that I might sit at that desk for the next 40 years. Adulthood was not what I'd thought. But mostly, I missed the classroom. Learning new things every day. Analyzing theories, discussing ideas and formulating opinions. I loved it when my brain hurt and when a concept clicked and when I was able to articulate a point clearly.
On the day of my graduation ceremony I requested the day off. I was working as a trainer at Discover Card and in the middle of a new hire class. Richard and I were newly married and he was unable to get the time off. It didn't matter. I donned my cap and gown and approached the arena with the sea of other graduates.
It all seemed so anticlimactic. A meaningless formality.
I was so alone and I couldn't hold back the tears of sadness and loss as I entered the building. While I watched other graduates pack up their cars to head back to their new, post-college life and what I assumed was a bright shiny new job or the opportunity to continue with their education, I headed back to work. The same job I had the day before. One that didn't require a college degree or a love of ideas.
Its not that I had any idea of what I wanted to do or what I would get my Masters in if I could go back. In one sense it wouldn't have mattered. Had I known then what I know now I would have just picked one and started the process. But I was still fairly fragile emotionally and wasn't able to identify what I wanted and even if I'd have known what I wanted I had not yet found my voice.
Richard and I agreed that he would complete his Masters and then I'd pursue mine. He knew what he wanted to do and he had a scholarship to move forward without any cost to us. It was a logical decision and I fully supported this path. The one downside was the length of the program. It was a 96 hour Masters, involving four years of study. But we were young and time seemed abundant.
Richard is smart and hard working and he completed his M. Div. in the time he promised. I'm the one who changed the program. By the end of his studies I was desperate to start a family. I knew that meant my Masters would have to wait. I had poor problem solving skills, was a black and white thinker and was struggling with depression. In my mind I only had a couple of options.
Looking back I think I could have made it work with just slightly more patience and emotional strength, but it was not to be. Soon I was pregnant with Caleb and my direction was set.
In one breath I will tell you I wish I'd pursued more education earlier in my life. But then I consider my years as a mother and its simply no contest. 'Mom' is my favorite title. My kids are such a source of joy and character building and amazement and learning! I postponed a piece of paper and traded it in for one of the greatest gifts of my life--parenting my kids. Not to mention that apparently I didn't need more formal education to accomplish all that God had for me to this point.
But now its time. This week I started my first class in my Masters program--Introduction to Spiritual Formation. I'm enrolled in a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Spring Arbor University and am completing an online degree. Only 19 years after I originally intended to begin.
In his book, The Wonder of Girls, Michael Gurian suggests that one of the most important lessons we need to teach our daughters is the reality of choices. With the great strides made in opportunities for women, many of our girls are overwhelmed by their choices. And, they are mistakenly told that they can 'have it all'. They can have a successful career, a thriving marriage, be the perfect mom, a marathon runner and a wine connoisseur. All of those things might be possible, but not at the same time! Our girls need to know (and have modeled) how to make choices about what they want to excel in at different seasons of their life. Identifying their values, then learning to prioritize accordingly.
I've found this to be true in my own life and I hope Madison is watching. I may not be able to have it all. But I have all I need and more than I deserve! It was definitely worth the wait.
On a perfect sunny day last month, our eldest son walked across the stage and accepted his high school diploma. Of course, this is the best possible ending to his previous twelve years of education but it still left me with a gaping hole in my heart.
I have yet to cry, but sometimes I feel like I can't quite get a breath.
When you unleash a man like Caleb into the world, you're bound to get asked what you did right.
I wish I knew. To me, Caleb is a beautiful picture of redemption and grace and the sovereignty of God.
This isn't false humility. We did do some things right. For starters, we weren't drug dealers and we stayed out of jail. This is a very low bar, but you have to start somewhere. (Frankly, even that may have nothing to do with us. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I know I've read about people who've overcome great domestic difficulty to become outstanding citizens.)
I'm not saying parenting is a crap shoot (although it has that feel on many days), but I am saying there are no guarantees. I just know I want my son to be better than me. And in a great kindness, God has given me that gift. This selfish, broken, insecure mother happened to be entrusted with an exemplary child.
I was not too far into this whole parenting thing when I began to recognize my own neurosis in my children. Parts of me I thought I'd conquered or hidden or simply hadn't discovered yet began appearing in my children in the most distressing ways. Very early on my kids could tell you that at an intersection "red means stop. Yellow means slow. Green means go, go go!!!" People pleasing, creative responses to incriminating questions (a.k.a. lying), a deep need to be perceived as 'good', etc. all reflected my personal demons.
The reality of how my own imperfection, sin and unhealthiness affected my offspring was sometimes more than I could bear. But it was also motivation to keep moving toward Christlikeness. To submit myself to more pain and healing and feedback and scrutiny so I could model authenticity in the journey.
I made so many mistakes. Big ones and little ones. I have so many regrets. I wish I'd held Caleb more as an infant, but I was so committed to "doing it right" and the prevailing wisdom of the day was to help them gain a sense of self-reliance. I wish I would have sent more encouraging notes in his lunch box. But I rarely even made his lunch. I wish I'd have been more nurturing in painful situations, but mercy often escaped me when it was most required. And prayer? So anemic during the early years. And the middle years. I did try to make up for it in the last couple of years, but I'm not sure it really works that way.
And yet, like the pain of childbirth, these faux pas seem quickly forgotten by my son. I do expect some of this to come back during future counseling sessions (if only for the redemption my parents need for enduring my seasons of therapy), but for the time being, my mistakes seem to have been covered by a grace I don't deserve.
As a former Calvinette (if you don't know, don't ask...you probably wouldn't believe it anyway), I had to get in a reference to the theology of Sovereignty. I'm not going to provide a definition (feel free to Google it...there's plenty out there), but I will describe how it has played out in my parenting. Essentially it boils down to this: God is in control. He decides who he will use in what way. While all of our efforts and excuses as parents are noticed by God, he is not limited by our wisdom, idiocy, triumphs or failures. My acts of faith are counted as righteousness for me and my effort matters for eternity but it is not a formula for positive outcomes this side of Heaven. Bottom line--I am not in control.
And now for my next illusion...
People (at least 3 of them, anyway) have told me I should write a book about parenting. That's funny to me. The reality is God used motherhood to expose so much of my crap and I spent most of my energy digging out of depression, selfishness and fear. I read three books on parenting and about two hundred on personal growth and spiritual transformation. I don't think that's a great formula worth repeating, it just happened to be the unique journey God had for me. So, please, don't try this at home.
What I would invite you to do is celebrate with me the gift God has given to Richard and I in Caleb. How God has redeemed our personal and parenting inadequacies, given grace beyond measure and has blessed Caleb with a heart that seeks after Him, a desire to know Christ more intimately and live out the Gospel more fully. I have no illusions...this is not our accomplishment, but in God's design, we are recipients of a most wonderful gift in our son.
But let's be honest...I don't deserve this kid!
It has been such a privilege to be your aunt. I vividly remember the evening your parents first shared they were expecting a baby (that turned out to be you). We were vacationing together in Flagstaff and we'd gone out to eat. Over dinner your dad nonchalantly smiled, then gushed that they were going to be parents. We laughed and screamed and dreamed together that night. (Of course I also remember when your dad called to tell me he was stealing the name Madison for their new baby girl. But that's basically a non-story given the outcome. )
Over the years I've watched as you've grown and it has been a joy. From tea parties with grandma and Barbies and Polly Pockets to piano lessons and acting and cheerleading. Through it all you've been my daughter's closest confidante and encourager and you've become a young woman seeking after God. (Not to mention that you're stunningly gorgeous and taller than me. )
And last night you graduated from 8th grade.
Speaking of which...It has come to my attention that at that ceremony you were presented the Martha Award. Congratulations!
However, this is puzzling to me. Not because you don't deserve an award, but because I don't understand why they'd give you (or any other woman they cared about) this one. I understand that the intent is to recognize one eighth grade girl for her devotion to service; for her ability and willingness to accomplish tasks behind the scenes where it often goes unnoticed. What I find more difficult to grasp is why they call that the "Martha Award."
In case you've not studied the story of Martha, let me summarize. While Martha is known for her tireless devotion to acts of service, she is primarily remembered for missing the point. Called out. Publicly. By Jesus. Ouch! And this occurs in the context of her service. (To be fair, I don't believe Jesus was chastising her for serving, but for believing that she was holier than her sister because she was busier.)
It seems a bit like presenting an eighth grade boy with the Thomas Award. Yes, he was a disciple and he ultimately died for the sake of the gospel, but he's primarily known for doubting. (There isn't a Thomas Award, is there?)
So here's my proposal...
I think there should be a Hannah Kredit Award. From 2014 on, one young woman should be chosen who represents the amazing qualities I see in you. Here are the highlights:
1. A gifted performer who comes alive on stage and then effortlessly moves to serve behind the scenes.
2. An encourager who finds deep joy in highlighting the beauty of others.
3. A hard worker who embraces the joy of the journey instead of succumbing to the relentless pursuit of perfection
4. Tall. I just think she should be tall.
5. An intelligent young woman who works hard but doesn't need to prove anything because her identity is in Christ
6. A creative dreamer who is fully content to live in the moment.
I'm aware that this blog post may go down as another one of Aunt Kelli's little rants. I hope so. Because I'll rant all day to ensure that you know how special you are! (Wait until next year when I write this post for Madison!) The last thing I want to do is diminish in any way the accomplishments of your elementary school years. You rock!
So take all of this with a grain of salt. Hold what seems good and right and discard what doesn't fit. You're smart. You'll figure it out!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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