Self-constructed walls and lives that scream “STOP!”

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As as I sit at Disney World (because that is what I do here while my husband naps and my kids entertain themselves on rides and check back for food and drink), I am reading an intriguing book. My favorite quote so far is: “I often think that the effort we put into trying to pretend something  about us is true-that we are less than we are  or more than we are or that one aspect of ourselves is the whole story-is based in a fear of being really known, of being truly seen, as we actually are.” Nadia Bolz-Weber

A few minutes ago, I got up from my reading and was taking pictures of fountains and flowers and encountered these walls…..

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They are covering up construction sites that are meant to stay out of sight. That is, unless you are me and climb up to see what is really behind them.

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But my intrigue had little to do with Disney’s next project and everything to do with our hearts. What is the condition of our hearts most of the time? Guarded. Barricaded by walls. Tucked behind thick fences of protection.  We are terrified to let people see our flaws, vulnerable places of weakness, and desperately don’t want anyone to think we are…..NEEDY.  When we even say that word, we use a tone of disgust because it is the last word any of us wants to be used to describe us. We can’t fathom others seeing the construction being done in our lives, our hearts, our raw places. So like Disney, we erect the facade, all clean and neat.

The inevitable result of the self-constructed walls is shallow, superficial relationships where we are never known. We either become whoever other people want us to be or we shut down and stop trying…..and we stop truly living and just start to survive.

True community begins with being vulnerable, raw, honest, and REAL. I have come to the place in life where fake and  superficial is exhausting. I pray God takes me to the depths with people- even those I just meet because that is where life happens. Real life. Not the fake reality of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Those are not real, people. And if we believe the lie that other people’s lives look that good all the time we will continue to hide our “junk” and fall deeper and deeper into the well of self-condemnation and insecurity.

I have lived with insecurity all my life. As I sit here today at 45 years old,  I still struggle….but the healing for me has happened when I decided to be honest with  God, my friends, and myself. When I began to realize that being a mess is ok and is actually comforting to other people who are bombarded with images of others “having it all together.” When I stopped playing the game of life and started living it, I was set amazingly free. Free to be me. Free to make mistakes and free to not have all the answers. Now that is to truly live.

I wonder who else is ready to stop playing church, stop with the never-ending images of perfection, and be with other people who want to be seen and known.  I have found that community with a group of women who make me brave everyday. Women who are going to get up this Saturday at a women’s event and hold up a poster board with words that describe their stories and their past that are not pretty and can’t be put in a pretty little box with a bow, all safe and secure. Words like “drug addict, ” “rape,” “multiple divorces,” and “sex at the age of 13.”

I know we all have wounds that grow deep from betrayal, abandonment, and shame. I get that. But it is time that we stop letting those hurts define us and keep us from finding people who want to do life together and be the body of Christ for each other.  It is not pretty or perfect- it is ugly and messy sometimes…..but that is where God wants us. He calls us to the the trenches,  sharing each other’s burdens and loving the unlovely parts of each other.

That, my friends, is REAL LIFE. A life of abundance and a life of freedom.

Light Breaks Through- WHAT IS THAT?

IMG_0678For those of you who see my post about Light Breaks Through and wonder what in the world I am up to now….I can explain!

About a year ago, I made a friend who I consider a “lifer.” We talked on the phone and I knew immediately we had a lot in common- our lives, loves, and laughter brought us into an instant friendship. We had this idea that to #lovewithoutagenda was an idea that was worth giving our lives to so we began to discuss what that would look like.  A lot of phone conversations, several meetings later, and a lot of prayer- Light Breaks Through was born. I actually think it was in existence for many years in Jerriann and me but we became an official 501(c)3 a few months ago.

Because she and I both don’t think God belongs in a box, we have simply taken this organization one small step at a time. We had a women’s encounter in Lakeland over the summer that went really well and then decided to host another one in Madison, Jerriann’s hometown, on October 3rd.  As we see needs in women, we want to meet them. If that means traveling internationally, going into strip clubs, or sitting with women in the streets- we want to be present. Fully present.

For now we feel that women getting together in community for one day to talk about real issues and hear stories from women who have overcome great obstacles is a way for God to use us…..so we are focusing our attention on these gatherings.

As women, we take care of needs of others, we work hard, and we neglect ourselves spiritually and relationally.

How many of us have taken the time in the last several months to focus for more than five minutes at a time on our mental and spiritual health? Probably very few of us- me included. And we make excuses- the kids, our schedules, or our jobs….. but deep down most of us are just scared. Scared to put ourselves out there. Scared to show up. Scared of how God will speak to our hearts. And we stay STUCK.

We certainly do not have all the answers but when we felt there was a need we wanted to do something.  Here is how we tell our story on our website:

Light Breaks Through began as a simple idea…..that God has a plan for all women and their stories matter. As it began to unfold, God gave a clear message that we are to embrace women from all walks of brokenness because we each have value and worth. 

As the leaders of the organization, we have experienced our own brokenness and know what it feels like to struggle with insecurities that we are too damaged to be used by a perfect God…..but as God has arrested our hearts, we are learning that we have purpose and importance because that is how we were created.  

As we are changed, we have a vision to see women across the globe experience the wholeness and freedom in Christ that we have experienced. We invite you into a community of women who know what it is like to be lost and then found. In bondage and then free. Enslaved to sin and on the road of a new way of living.

 We are not an organization of quick fixes and religious testimonies. We believe in the honest gathering of women sharing their struggles, their stories and their lives as they seek Christ and do it imperfectly. 

We are all saved by His extravagant grace and we want to share that with you. If you are looking for perfect people, we are not it. If you are looking for a place to belong and be known, you are welcome among us. If you are hungry for something other than the sitting in the church pew surrounded by people and feeling like you are on the outside, you will find a home in the work of Light Breaks Through. 

We host “women’s encounters” that are one day events where we gather, learn, grow, and share in real life community. We ask women to take off their masks and JUST BE. That is where God will meet you. We pray that you will be led to see your value, your worth, and your identity and not settle for a life of mediocrity and shallow relationships. 

We hope you will join us. The journey of redemption is waiting- we just have to say YES.

For more information, you can go to LightBreaksThrough.org or contact Jennie at jensellis624@gmail.com.

 

 

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Briefcases, stories, and strength…..

DSC_3060This morning I  was perusing Craigslist and came across an estate sale where they were selling all of the contents of a home. That always fascinates me because I start to wonder what the situation is….often it is someone who has died and the family is selling everything they did not want to save. Whenever I walk into a sale like that, I always struggle with digging through someone’s special possessions and I feel a bit like it dishonors the memory of the person who owned them. Then I start to wonder how long they owned something, where they might have purchased it, and what it meant to them. Why do I have all this going through my head when other people are simply picking up stuff and making deals? Because I love stories and I believe that there is power in knowing someone else’s story.

I headed out to the estate sale that had caught my attention, thinking it sounded like a fun adventure for 7:30 AM on a Friday. The family appeared to be hosting the sale and the men about my age were joking with me about buying this or that and were ready to sell me all their “bargains.”  We laughed and joked for a while and then I  headed inside where there were tables full of odds and ends. I picked up a box with birds on it and a small, elderly woman quietly said, “There are pieces of a handle inside the box that can be added to it.” I stopped and probably gave her the creeper stare because a million questions started going through my head….”Is this your house? Are these your things? Why aren’t you freaking out? Do you have to leave your home? Are you sad? Where are you going?” In the meantime, she was unassumingly walking around to the people at the tables, saying very little. I told her I liked the box and went outside to add it to my other few things I had purchased.

I was intrigued with the woman who was telling me about the box and asked the men who were taking the money. They said that she was their 91 year old grandmother who was widowed and was moving into an assisted living community. I told them she appeared to be more at peace with selling her belongings than I thought she would have been. One of them replied, “She is a woman of great strength.”  I continued to dialogue with them about her and how difficult this must be- for her to watch  what she cherished as sentimental and a part of her life be picked through by people who know nothing of the history. They continued to praise her for her strength.

I left with the black briefcase and the brown art box and passed on the bird box because it cost all of $2. Have I mentioned how cheap I am? For the next hour, I was driving around running errands and found myself turning around and going back to the estate sale. I walked up and the grandson said, “You came back for that box, didn’t you?” I told him I had and he said it was sold. Totally bummed I went into the house and asked the mother-in-law to show me something that was sentimental to the sweet woman who lived in the house. She had several items that the family had passed on that had still meant something to the elderly woman. I looked at a pretty Christmas angel that she had made 60 years ago, but it felt too personal to buy even though it was for sale. Then the grandson brought out a gray briefcase with the initials “CW” which are the same initials of my grandfather. He said it had belonged to his grandmother’s mother- Catherine Whipple.

I bought the gray suitcase to add to the black briefcase and brown art box I had purchased the first time around and explained to them that I wanted to write a story about my experience. They were intrigued that I could walk in an estate sale and come out with a blog, but played along with me.

As I left with my new possessions, I started to think….it must take inexplainable courage  to watch almost everything you own be sold off for a dollar here and a dollar there. It would have been one thing had she not understood what was going on around her, but she was very aware of her surroundings and cognizant that her stuff was being carried out the door by strangers.

This week I have struggled a lot with having courage. I have had a lot of mixed emotions as I have been faced with my father having a stroke/heart attack. We don’t have much of a relationship so it has all been very confusing. I have asked God over and over to give me courage and strength and I have had great peace this week MOST of the time. I would feel God giving me the moment by moment direction I needed and then I would slowly fall into self-preservation and find myself drifting. Then I would move back toward God. The ups and downs went on like this all week.

It was not until today-when I saw a 91 year old woman, who had lost her husband, her ability to drive, and now her home and all that was in it-that I realized what beautiful strength really is. I see brave people all around me but I often think that by 91 it must wear off and we become fearful of everything, especially our futures. Today I saw the opposite. I saw quiet strength and peaceful acceptance.

I wanted to ask her and her family if they were Christians but I felt that I had already invaded all their personal space and pretty much stalked their family history so I did not ask. I regret it because it could have been a huge testimony to God’s goodness. Only He knows.

Do you ever wonder how you are going to face the unknown? Do the what-ifs drive you nuts?  Take heart, my friend.

Paul writes in the book of Colossians:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”

I pray you find strength this week. Strength to face the unknown. Courage to let go of whatever is holding you back. And endurance to run toward the abundant life God has for you.

 

 

What I learned from a pair of socks….

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His third day of middle school and he wore these socks. An older lady gave each of the pastors several pairs (I have no idea why) and Kenny took one look at them and said he would never wear them and Cooper snatched them up. Last year in elementary school, he was known by his socks- long, glow in the dark fluorescent green ones, fuzzy ones with Christmas ornaments on them in the middle of May, and ones that have caused grown adults to advise him he looked like a girl and never wear them again. I figured that fashion statement had died in elementary school…..until today.

While I have been worried for the past three days about how he will adjust to middle school, how he would “fit in”, whether or not he had the right binder and knew the combination to his lock, he was fine. And I was not.  By day three he was comfortable being himself, socks and all. It never occurred to him that middle school would be anything other than amazing. I had thought of all the things that could go wrong and how I would talk him out of feelings of unworthiness when he got home. I never needed those parenting strategies. On his first day, he said he walked up the wrong set of stairs and everyone was going down and he was the only one going up. I panicked for him. I was wondering if he was made fun of or if he felt insecure, etc. He just laughed it off and said, “Next time I knew which stairs to take!” No big deal. For me, that would have been a defining moment. One more way that everyone else knew what to do and I didn’t. I learned in that conversation what it meant to be brave at 11 and decided I wanted what he had.

My whole life I have struggled with insecurity, not ever feeling like I measured up, and wishing I fit in like other people. As early as I can remember, I have not wanted to be different than everyone else. I went to great lengths NOT to be noticed as outside what I thought was the “norm.” After years of counseling, prayer, and good friends speaking truth to me, I still have not overcome the fears I have battled my whole life. That I was not acceptable. That I was on the outside and somehow everyone else was on the inside. That everyone else knew how to do this “life” thing and I was in the dark. That I would get it together one day like everyone else and here I am. Somehow I still don’t have it together.

As I have raised my children, I have feared them failing. Not because it would make me look bad or because I needed them to succeed, but because I was operating with the mindset that I had growing up- failure is crushing because I am defined by my successes.  If I never try, I cannot fail.  So as they have wanted to try new things, I have been very reluctant. I have not told them so but I have deep rooted fear that they will only get hurt if they put themselves out there.

My seventeen year old decided six months ago he wanted to be a runner. Simple- he started to run. He did not weigh out how he would accomplish the entire sport of racing. He just put on his shoes and ran the lake. Now as a senior he has joined the cross country team. I would have not done that if my life depended on it in high school. But he never thought twice about it. He trains every day, takes his wins and losses, and tries to improve all the time.

I have done some running in my life and at one point I was running 5K races regularly.  Then I had some injuries and had given up the sport I never even really liked. On Monday after the kids returned to school and I finally had a day not already planned for me, I put on my running shoes and made it all of two miles before I fell onto my couch, exhausted. I already wanted to give up. The self-talk in my head was saying, “You can’t do this. You are never going to be good at running. You are too old. You are too fat.” After one day I wanted to give up! But as I ran today, I thought of how brave my son was. Joining a cross country team the last year of high school and never doubting he could do it. In that moment when I was sure I was never going to succeed, I kept running  because I knew if my 17 year old could be brave so could I.

Last year, my fifteen year old son decided two weeks before guitar auditions for Harrison that  he wanted to learn classical guitar and try out. Mind you, he did not even know how to hold a classical guitar at that point. His instructor told him he needed a year to prepare for the audition. I don’t think my son even heard those words because after 3 lessons he went into a room with his guitar and the teacher and played. I sat outside the room, overcome with panic and fear. I tried to listen through the thick door and when it came to sight-reading not a note was being played. I was texting my husband the whole time with “THIS WAS A VERY BAD IDEA.” I did not want him to feel the pain of rejection because from what I was NOT hearing coming out of that room it was not going well. He was not only accepted into the program but a year later was accepted into the most elite guitar group at Harrison. As I have watched him practice hours everyday, it never occurred to him not to try because he might fail. That was not an option in his mind. It certainly was in mine!

My oldest son joined the Army last year. With so many unknowns and a lot of questions we were unable to answer, he got on a bus and went to boot camp. With total strangers. And knowing he had some emotional wars to fight in the process. I could not believe that after all he had been through that he had the strength but he did. Seeing him graduate from basic training was one of the proudest moments of my life. He did it and he continues to do it as he works for our country.

My husband is also a very confident person and I keep thinking my kids must have gotten it from him. So I am the only female in our family and the only one who struggles with insecurity. What do I do now? I learn from them. I allow myself to dream the impossible and go do it.  Instead of quitting something because I think I will fail, I stay with it. Even when I realize I won’t be the best, the fastest, the skinniest, or the most graceful, I run. And I believe I can do it. WOW. Those are hard words to even write.

I wonder how many other people are held back by self-doubt and insecurity. What could we do if we just tried? Risked? I don’t know what this chapter holds for me but for one thing I am sure- the boys and men in my life have a lot to teach me and I am blessed to be spectators in their lives. They make me brave.

 

 

 

 

Abortion and extravagant grace

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A profound quote from Ann Voskamp’s blog about the loud, bold posts on social media about abortion.  Humble outreach. Exactly.  It was the first words I heard about the reaction of many  toward  Planned Parenthood that really resonated with me.  Indignation, graphic videos, and the careless ways people approach the subject…..I don’t believe those change the hearts of women who are considering abortion. I think it further silences them about their unplanned pregnancies, keeps them quiet about their consideration of abortion because clearly the  mention of it sends people into a complete meltdown, and certainly shames  the women who are struggling with their past decision to have an abortion.

The anger is aimed at Planned Parenthood but the message is actually predominantly reaching the women who have had or will have abortions. They are the ones reading the posts and the blogs and the ones hiding further in their self-condemnation.  If we handle women’s hearts with gentleness and compassion and they see us as approachable , we can share LIFE with them and maybe one day Planned Parenthood has no abortion clients and there is no more discussion. Period.  The love that is shared with the Gospel will be louder than the abortion clinics’ message if we stop shaming and start loving.

Does the woman walking into an abortion clinic even know one Christian she could call and seek advice from who might be able to tell her of the options available to her, like adoption? Probably not because all she has seen is anger, disgust, and hatred. So she tells no one and goes through with it alone.

Does the 35 year old woman  with a child and one on the way dare tell her Bible study that she wonders if her child will be born with defects  because surely she will be punished for having an abortion? I doubt it.

Everyone has a story and every story matters. What if we stopped talking so loudly and started listening? Sitting with women and hearing their hearts cry out and allowing God to move in the midst…..that is where the movement begins and ends.

I spent a few years volunteering at a pregnancy help center and learned so much about mercy and grace from the staff there. I saw compassion and empowering women to choose life……not the approach I see most Christians using recently.  Every time we speak in generalizations and harshness, we sound unapproachable and arrogant and we set ourselves apart as someone who would never associate with someone who might be struggling with this decision.  So we stand as the SUPERIOR CHRISTIANS and all the while women around us are getting abortions and we will never know. Or women are hiding in our churches, isolated and hurting, and they will never heal because they have to keep it a secret from the SUPERIOR CHRISTIANS. And if you don’t think they are in your pews. check the statistics. And if they aren’t in your pews you probably scared them away before they even made it to the parking lot.

What if we loved more and judged less? Stopped screaming and started listening? Stopped posting and started praying?

Women need each other and when one thinks her sin is the one inexcusable sin she runs from the Jesus we want her to know.  She needs to have a safe place to fall and the world will give her that. Will we do the same, as women who were changed by grace? It never means we must agree with the decision but it does mean that women could come to us, as believers, and we will do life with them no matter what. Let’s show the world that we are saved by a merciful God and because of the extravagant grace shown to us, we have plenty of it to share with others. And let’s be honest about our own brokenness and our own failures. Maybe then we will see women overwhelmed with the love of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Am I Going?

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So often we are “doing life” and  we fail to ask the  question “where am I going?” We are caught up in our schedules,  families, appointments and even the out of the ordinary vacations, trips, and excursions but aren’t even those pretty much planned?

I remember one time my husband giving me a  book called  Silence and Solitude. If you know me, you are probably laughing like I did when he tried to nicely tell me to stop talking and start listening. Not one of my better qualities to say the least.  I obviously did not read it and have continued to talk, reason and problem solve and have failed to do much internal, God directed listening.  I sometimes stop long enough to hear God whispers but I hear my own  voice way more than I hear His….

At the time I am writing this, I am sitting on the path where I took this picture. Quiet and peaceful…..giving me the time to think. Where am I  and where am I going in life? We need to ask ourselves these questions or we get stuck in those routines and schedules and miss God completely.

Change is hard for me. I like predictability, especially for the sake of my family. It was not something I had so I seek it out like it is always the answer…..but what if it isn’t?  What if it is simply fear that keeps me from seeking change? Or selfishness? Or holding the people I love too tightly?

I fear regret most of all. Change opens me up to the possibility that I could make a mistake, but somehow I don’t see the possibility that not embracing something different might lead to deeper regret.

As I sit in the woods and ask myself these questions, I am praying that you will also take the alone time to seek God’s direction for you. When we get overwhelmed with schedules and everybody else’s needs we lose ourselves and I think that is God’s call for us to sit in silence and reflect. In those precious moments, God will meet us there.

Post Haiti Thoughts: People are Not Projects

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Every time I am in the Ft. Lauderdale or Port au Prince airport, I see a flood of short term mission groups with matching Tshirts. Yes, we have them too because quite honestly, it is the easiest way to keep track of people. But what people will print on their Tshirts baffles me. I can usually filter out the “Bringing Hope to Haiti” and “Jesus is the Answer for Haiti” but yesterday I was stopped in my tracks. I literally came to a halt in the flow of airport traffic of people hustling and bustling and could not move. A lady was sporting a hot pink Tshirt that adorned the words “Heaven’s Helpers 4 Haiti.” WOW.

I need to back up a little here before you think I am hating on the “missionaries.” I am sure that sounds very cute and sweet that she felt she was dropped from heaven to work with the poor people but I want to look at it from the perspective of a Haitian.

First, many Haitians in the city who have gone to high school can read English. They know enough to put  it all together and realize that Haiti has a problem and the person who is wearing the Tshirt has the solution. When did we become so arrogant that we think we even know what the problem in Haiti is in the first place? After 6 years and about 20 trips to Haiti, I don’t know what the problems are and I KNOW for sure that I am not the answer.

Haitians in the village where we work know way more about Jesus and worship than I will ever comprehend. They bring the hope of Jesus to me with their steadfast faith and unrelenting worship. I would never, ever presume that when I am there I am bringing more of Jesus than they already have. If I do offer something of value, GREAT. God had a purpose but not because I have any idea what it means to depend on Him for the rain for my crops so my family can eat or a raging fever to break when there is no doctor or medicine. That kind of perseverance I know nothing about. My Tshirt would read “Thank you, Haiti, for showing me your BIG faith. I now know mine is very small.” Period.

I wonder how Americans would feel if troops of bandana wearing, hair braided, boot sporting Haitians got off the plane wearing shirts that said “Heaven’s Helpers 4 America.” What would be your first reaction? Would you think how arrogant it sounded that Haitians would have any idea where to start to help America? I would.

Short term mission trips are very controversial in fact. There is a growing trend of Americans paying large amounts of money to fly into poor areas and do work that honestly, the locals could easily do themselves. Many of those trips are planned where the group stays in a hotel with running water, electricity, Wifi, hot meals, etc. while the area where they are serving have none of the above. Many organizations include excursions, shopping trips, and extravagant meals so that people will be enticed to come. I have to ask if these trips are really helping anyone. Is the country where they are serving different because the group came and did the group really sacrifice to come besides maybe giving up a little vacay time?

Our organization is in fact asking these very pertinent questions. We don’t have any luxuries and the ride/walk to our village is brutal, but we are pondering if Haiti is changed by our visits. No conclusions yet but we need to continue to ask ourselves if short term mission trips are producing long term change in the country where we serve and in the country in which we live because of what we are doing.

When we first started working in Chauffard, Haiti no one who lived there trusted Americans so we were in for a long road of building bridges with them. We were told by the leaders in the community that Haitians were jaded because most of the time foreigners came in, started a project, went back to their first world problems, and never returned.  The people in the country felt they were projects and when the trip was over so was the help. Haiti is full of half built structures that foreigners never completed because life got in the way.

I think the answer to some (not all) of these problems is that our work needs to be LONG TERM and RELATIONAL. Poor people can paint a building and swing a hammer way better than you and I can. It is insulting that we come in and start fixing things that, with the resources provided, they could do themselves and in turn have dignity and  ownership in their community.  Every single time we have made a plan for clean water, buildings, etc. the Haitians have shown us a better, more effective way to go about it than any of us “professionals” have found. We should find ourselves humbled by the locals’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. We have learned this lesson the hard way.  When we come in and do the work as the “Savior foreigners,” they sit and watch us waste resources and do things inefficiently and inside they begin to resent us. Why? Because we never even asked them how to do what they know in their own country. How sad.

When we go on a trip to a third world country, we need to come home CHANGED. The work when we get home is ever present. Local opportunities to serve are everywhere and contributing to a global organization for education, clean water, and basic necessities is a command God gives us that we cannot ignore. I have to say that I see this kind of external change in people very rarely. They often return to the lives they had before they left and have a few cute Facebook posts and photos but evident life change is a rarity.

My friend from Togo, West Africa came to Haiti with me for 11 days. She said that when missionaries came to her village when she was a little girl and stared at them in their bare feet and filthy clothes, they were ashamed. They felt like a project because the people would see their poverty and begin to hand out “stuff” without knowing anything about them except that they were poor.

When we get to know our friends in poor countries, hear their stories, and offer them our shoes, we are giving because we love. Not because we pity.  How we offer things to people needs to be done in a way that empowers people. Our organization gives backpacks to students who have earned them- so they feel proud to have received something, not ashamed that because they had nothing, we had to come in and “save” them.

We are called to love because He first loved us. Jesus never made us a project. He laid down His life for us and said it was finished. Let’s love like that.

Teaching Our Children to Redefine Success

Children have developed a very narrow view of success and we, as parents, are responsible for it. Most of the time our children think if they are the star athlete, the top of the class, and the first chair in the orchestra then they have achieved success……but what if we have sold them short in how we have defined it? What if it is bigger than that? What if our definition is producing kids who don’t know how to celebrate accomplishment when it looks different than theirs? I think this is an epidemic in our society.

As parents, we want to make sure that our kids are at the top, while we neglect to acknowledge the miracles happening all around us. Our kids know it too. They know we expect close to perfection and often pressure them as much for our own sense of accomplishment as theirs.  They are blind to the world around them because pulling off the high standards of achievement takes all the energy they have. This idea has troubled me for a long time.

So….years ago I decided to take action.  I was determined to expose my kids to others whose definition of “success” was different than theirs.

When I was open to the idea, opportunities just started to come. Cooper joined reading buddies at his school and every time his buddy reached an AR goal, we celebrated- Easter egg hunts, lots of cheeseburgers, and the finale- safety patrol for the day with the bonus of donuts. He learned that his buddy’s accomplishments of going from a pink dot AR book to a light blue dot was worthy of a party.

 

IMG_1928IMG_1678IMG_1769We also started throwing parties for AR goals met in the classes where they did not have an overflow of eager, available homeroom moms. We CELEBRATED! We partied Ellis style with food, games, and balloons (thank you, bestie Shelly Gerber).

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See, we get stuck in our little worlds, our little classrooms, our little neighborhoods, and our little families. We see our children and maybe their classmates, carpooling, soccer, and baseball friends. But do we really SEE the rest of the population? How can our children see them if we don’t?  Have we taught our children to celebrate others’ successes or just their own?

These ideas came to a pinnacle the week before school was out this year. The week was crammed with so many events- fifth grade banquet, awards, parties, etc. and honestly, I was growing weary the first day of the week because of all the planning that had already happened. So the second to the last day, I was dragging myself through the parking lot- camera and snacks in tow. I was dealing with the sadness of my youngest leaving elementary school and going to  middle school and I was in the midst of a little pity party as I said good-bye to this sweet school I loved so much.

As I pulled myself together, I ran into a precious friend. She was beaming. Glowing. My mind was reeling. What had happened? What could possibly bring that much excitement?? Then she starts talking, a million miles an hour. She said, “I just left the awards ceremony for Audrey! She got the 50 point club for AR! She got perfect attendance! SHE GOT ALL E’s FOR CITIZENSHIP!!!!” In that moment, my heart celebrated right along with my friend because I knew that her daughter’s successes were HUGE! As I walked away, my spirit was full. My joy was complete. Audrey had succeeded.

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The next day was 5th grade awards and my son and all his STEM friends would inevitably rack up the certificates and trophies. I knew going into it that there would be the 500 AR point club, PE student of the year, and even 2 community college scholarships for deserving students. Amazing awards and proud moments. My son was even to win the principal’s award and give a speech to the class and parents.  This was one glowing mama!

I was taking pictures of all the students and about ten minutes into the ceremony, the guidance counselor said to me, “You might want to get ready for the next one.” Not knowing what she was alluding to, I moved in close for the picture. Little did I know that his moment would make me completely undone.

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One of the precious students whose successes we had celebrated for all those years  was getting Most Improved Student of the 5th grade. I could barely hold my camera. I was not just crying, I was weeping.  I saw his teachers beaming with pride, jumping to their feet with applause. I could imagine in this moment my son thinking that this could get embarrassing, as I hooped and hollered like a crazy woman. He was a HERO. MY HERO. HIS TEACHERS’ HERO. The WORLD’S HERO. Why? Because he had overcome the obstacles and won. Simple as that.

What are our children missing when they do not get the opportunity to celebrate with the overcomers of this world?  They are not afforded the privilege to see someone whose success is different than theirs and just as significant. This is how children learn to be givers. This is how they learn to have compassion. They don’t learn it in their gifted classrooms and their all-star sports teams. They learn it in the classrooms where 10 AR points, not 100,  are worth a cheeseburger party and where perfect attendance is worthy of celebrating.