Our children must find their own way….

University Application Form
University Application Form


How do we measure success for our children? Straight A’s? The perfect college application? Star athlete? I think we often miss it…..MOST of us do. And who suffers because of it? Our children do.

High school students today are bombarded with expectations- grades, clubs, sports, service projects, SAT, ACT, PERT, FCAT, and now the new test whose name I have repressed because it boils my blood. Are high school students doing all of this because they love it? Most of the time no-they are doing it to impress colleges. They need to “beef up” their college apps so they attend mission trips, start neighborhood projects, and play sports that they do not even like….and all to look good.

The result? An amount of anxiety and stress in our teenagers that has catastrophic results.  At a time when they are supposed to be finding out who they are, what they love, and where they are headed, many are attending college aimlessly without any clue as to who they really are. They have spent their first 18 years trying to impress the right people and work the right system and they have not even had the time or energy to figure out why they are here and who they were created to be.

I do speak from some experience here. I attended a very reputable college and spent about five years after I graduated interviewing college applicants and sending in reports of my assessment of the students. What I found was shocking and very sad to me. I found myself sitting in front of shells of individuals with not a moment to breathe and not an original idea to share. They had become robots in the college application world. Most of them looked like they just needed a hug, a nap, and a day at the beach. Finally, I looked at one girl in the top of her class in a prestigious high school and said, “How in the world do you have time for all of this?” She looked at me, confused, because she did not know any other way. As it would turn out, she did not get into the college, even though she had the perfect application. Interesting.

One individual I interviewed already had her sorority picked out and her recommendations ready to send to the college. When she found out she did not get in, she suffered from extreme anxiety because everything she and her family had built came crashing down. Sad but true.

Then there was this amazing musician. He was from a modest family, loved his instrument, and was willing to go wherever God called him. There was also the swimmer whose family had sold everything, packed up what was left and spent the year visiting the 50 states. She was spunky and fun and engaging. Both of these students got in to this college. Interesting.

I am going to be vulnerable here. My dad was the poster child of perfection. Choate boarding school, Yale University (like the generations before him), Vanderbilt Law School. Pretty impressive, right? Well, at the age of 30, when I was a little girl, he was tired of being perfect. He took off in his pimped out conversion van (it was the 70’s) and partied like there was no tomorrow. We no longer fit into the imperfect world he created for himself.  He thought that all the high achieving would benefit him in some amazing ways but what he found was he did not even know who he was. The reward did not meet the work it took to get there and to this day he has rebelled against everything conventional, including fatherhood.

And where do we, as parents, fit into this equation? We are usually the reason our children end up with their stomach in knots and their social lives nonexistent. A mom told me yesterday, “I told my son (who is in middle school), now is the time to work, you can play when you are 25!” WOW.

There is a population of parents who NEED their children to attend elite universities in order to obtain a status of acceptance from others. How sad. Where have our dreams for our children gone? To them making decisions to make us look good? How very, very sad.

I picked up a mug in the “graduation” section of a store and it read “DREAM BIG.” I thought a lot about that since then. Have we even allowed our high school students to dream at all?  Or are we too busy fattening up their college applications with activities that they never dreamed of but will impress a panel of strangers?

As I have have watched one of our four sons graduate high school and enlist in the Army and another one who will be  a senior next year, I have reflected a lot on how to be their mom. Here is what I have decided…..

They will each find their way.

We will encourage them,  expect them to work to their potential, and pray for them constantly. If they want to take a year off from high school to go backpacking- great. If they want to go to community college to save themselves and us massive debt- great. If they are accepted into a prestigious school with tons of scholarship money and a passion for it- great.

But what they will always know is that they were allowed to find their way. They will not look back and think we lived their lives for them.

Hopefully, they are spending high school finding out who their Creator has made them to be and what He has called them to do. That will take time- probably a lifetime- but they will know they were given the opportunity when they were with us and that all we ever wanted for them was that they would find THEIR way.

Against the Odds


The credits started rolling one minute ago, I am weeping, and had to sit at my computer with thoughts crashing like waves in my head. The movie- McFarland USA. Poignant. Beautiful. True.  Every child in the world should see it. The whole time I am trying to figure out how to translate it to Creole for the kids in Haiti.

I won’t even tell you the story line because I know you will sit down as a family and watch it but here is why the tears will not stop flowing….


People do it everyday- those who did not have lunches packed each day with a chilled, bottled water, little bag of Doritos, a fresh apple, and sandwiches with the crust cut off and made into little triangles. Those who never thought they would see graduation from high school because work was a necessity to survive. Those who have never seen a doctor or a dentist but can run a 6 minute mile with ease. Those who work before the sun comes up, go to school, and work until it is dark. They are real people and walk the same soil we do. They are American. They are African. They are Mexican. They are Haitian. And they know what it means to beat the odds. Many of them will do what their parents did and will do it with excellence- farming, taxi driving, raising children, driving a school bus. That is noble and honorable.

But what about the kids who have a Jim White (the coach in the movie) who tells them they can achieve something extraordinary, like go to college on a scholarship? Join the service? Become a teacher and return to the high school they attended and mentor the next generation?  What  about the parents who sacrifice their children’s help to let them go to college and pursue what no one in the family has ever accomplished?

They are the heroes. 

The ones who had no one at home to help them with their homework because everyone in the family is illiterate. The ones who don’t have a piece of paper and a pencil to write with so they study their math problems by writing with their fingers in the sand. The ones who do not have the right clothes, or shoes, or mode of transportation…..but they don’t feel entitled to anything- not the clothes, the shoes or the packed lunch. They are grateful for what they do have. No one is braver than they are .

I know many of these heroes and they are my celebrities…..not Prince whoever having a baby, not the Bachelor, not the Tampa Bay Lightning….

These are my heroes……





Being Present

I was privileged to spend some time today with two people I love and respect. Like REALLY love and REALLY respect. People who are living the call to love in the midst of the joys and successes but more often the pain, disappointment, and rejection. One was an adult and one was a child. Both fully engaged in life, focused on the command to love the poor and the hurting, but who are at two totally different places. The sixteen year old, who is poised, mature, and hungry for God and His broken people and the forty year old who is weathered, meeting people in their brokenness, and looking a lot like I do most days- tired…..As I left these interactions this afternoon, I thought…..Should I have warned the young one of the hard road ahead  working in the third world amidst poverty, disease, and pain? Should I have  told my peer that I am on the verge of giving up on reaching out to people every single day and we can both call it quits together and forget all this and focus on our own families??

Honestly, I was tempted to do both….I wanted to give them a “pass” because then I could allow myself one. So I pondered this for the afternoon, swam my laps for the day, and God literally stopped my spiraling thoughts and arrested my heart. In one second He changed me. Just like that.

I felt very strongly that this was the message He was giving me……

Loving and serving will never be easy. If it was, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? We are a society that wants quick fixes, miraculous transformations, and sensational before and after spiritual walks and that is not how it works. Change is hard for everyone.  Laying down our lives is a difficult task for all of us….why would it not be for the brokenhearted? Stay the course. Love when you don’t want to. Give when you think you have nothing else left. Pray when you are too exhausted. Sacrifice when you think you are entitled to be selfish. Make time when there seems to be no time.

As I think now about my two friends, I no longer want to take their pain….I am envious of it. I want a life where my investment in people’s lives is so deep that I feel all of it…..the victories and the disappointments. When I detach myself to the point of not feeling these connections, I have decided to no longer truly live and that is disobedience.

When I get the call from Haiti that another friend has died from a common virus or the reality that we have not fed our school in two months, I want to forge ahead- not fall into my typical mode of operation, which is wanting to give up because it is just too hard. I want to fight for the people I love in Haiti-educating and loving the “we take care of our own” Americans, praying for a solution for the orphan whose one relative just had a stroke, asking everyone I know how to get medication for children who are spitting up whole worms that are taking over their bellies, and teaching youth lessons about serving that I barely understand for myself. I don’t want to  ignore the problems I know exist because it hurts my heart too much. I am responsible for how I use my resources and they are not just for the Ellis clan- it goes far beyond us. It spans the globe from Africa to Haiti to 33803 and beyond. When I narrow my focus to me, mine, and  ours I have  missed my call. I often don’t have the quick solutions or even answers of any kind but God says, “Be present. Just show up.” So I do….sometimes. But I am working on staying engaged more and running away less.

We have to allow ourselves to go to hard places with people and be willing to sit with them in their messes. We are not called to fix, we are called to love. And love is not always pretty. Sometimes it gets ugly because words must be said in truth and love and sometimes they are not welcomed.

How many of us really allow ourselves to go to that depth with people? I know I often shy away when it gets to that part because that is too uncomfortable for me and that is purely a form of self-love. If I am to be obedient to my call, it won’t always be neat and clean- it will be messy and dirty.

So I challenge you…..is your life engaged with others where it sometimes gets hard? Or are you too scared and run if it gets too deep? Do you stay with people just like you because that is safe?

We are called to leave our comfort and go be light in the darkness. Light will always break through, even when it seems like the dark is taking over. God already tells us the light wins in the end.