Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't be an artist

I was heavily pregnant with my first child. Todd and I were on our way home from my final OBGYN appointment. Everything looked great, we were just waiting for the little princess--the first grandchild on both sides--to make her appearance.  

I'm was in my head a lot. I'd stopped working about a month before when we moved from our condo in the Chicago suburbs back to where I grew up, the Detroit suburbs. I missed the noise and activity level (and distraction) of my kindergarten classroom back in Cicero, IL, but I knew my days were about to get much more interesting (or long) very soon. 

As an elementary school teacher for 3 years, I considered myself an expert on children. I had a degree to prove it. I knew the traits that translated to classroom success and the ones that, well, were fun to have but weren't exactly college scholarship magnets. 

As we made our way home, I turned to Todd in complete sincerity and stammered, "What if the baby wants to be an artist?"  
He didn't understand the question.  

"You know, like if she's artsy, like an actor or musician or painter? What are we going to do then?"
Still nothing. He blinked. Crickets may have chirped.

I said, "I don't know how to handle someone who's success hinges on whether or not people 'get them'. Seems like it's not a real job, you know?  I mean, being a grown up means having some kind of measurable success, right?"
Todd shrugged.  Probably the safest way to end that hormone-driven conversation.  (And evidence that he did not share my concern.)

About a week later Madeline Grace arrived.  It took about a year and a half, but I slowly felt my worries were being realized. She embraced activities like drawing, painting, singing, and dancing. These are not negative or unusual childhood behaviors, obviously. But the way she flourished at them gave me pause. 

Madeline, shortly after her first birthday.

Unquantifiable artistic talent was my biggest fear. Not illness or accident. Not being gay. Not atheism. Not tattoos or purple hair. Not an unplanned pregnancy. I know that my faith and family can weather all those things. I most feared her being misunderstood or not celebrated for her uniqueness. 

And honestly, feeling like she's not being understood has always been a meltdown trigger.  We've been hearing "You just don't understand!" from her for years, and she's not even 10 yet. 

So I started thinking back to my own school days. I wondered...that smug kid who always knew the answers in fifth grade? I could not remember his name.  The girl who could draw people in a way I'd never seen before or since?  Googled her just the other day. 

I went to junior high and high school with a girl that became a real-life opera singer.  I have several other former classmates that have done serious work in clothing design and painting and music. I remember these people. Name of my class valedictorian? No idea. And that's really saying something, because I attended school with some very talented people. 

My point is this: the arts inspire. They are memorable. And they can be blended beautifully with our everyday careers to make something ordinary into extraordinary, what we might call success. 

Fast forward almost 10 years from that car ride home from the OBGYN's office.  My job now is full-time stay-at-home mom and very part-time substitute teacher.  Not a lot of data by which to measure success there. {If I were still teaching, I might be worried about how states are working to make test scores a major factor in determining a teacher's success. But I digress...}

My husband's job as a pastor is also hard to deem as "successful"; It's more like effective or ineffective. People don't always understand why we would choose such professions, why we would willingly put ourselves in situations where we'd be criticized or unappreciated or misunderstood. I'd argue that it's really not like that, that the good almost always outweighs the bad.  Teaching and pastoring are equal parts art and skill. They are never boring.

I realized that we all possess traits and talents that others just won't understand. Its not up to the world to understand us, its our job to find our voice. 

God has given Madeline, and all of us, specific gifts.  These gifts make us who we are and will help us realize our potential.  I've always told my girls that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, and I really believe that as long as they are using their gifts and graces they'll go far.  Our careers don't have to be either/or.  They can be both/and. The joining of God-given talent and hard work are where amazing things happen. 

So I don't want Maddie to be an artist. She can be anything. I want her to use her creativity in a career that challenges and inspires her. Who knows what that might look like 10 years from now. But I may still try to steer Maddie into college instead of--no, in addition to--her improv class. 

What was the strangest thing you worried about while pregnant? What do you worry most about your child's future?
How do you measure success for your children?  For yourself?  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Eye has not seen

I have a constant loop of Catholic hymns playing in my head, songs from my youth that insert themselves into my thoughts and give me pause throughout the day.  I suppose 12 years of Catholic education, 7 years of teaching in Catholic schools,  and many years of attending Catholic mass will do that to a person.

Although I no longer identify myself as a practicing Catholic, the songs remain written on my heart. I'm usually overjoyed when I attend a United Methodist service somewhere and one of the hymns from my childhood is played.  "That's one of ours!" I say, nudging my husband and pointing at the hymnal.

In times of high and low emotion, I lean on these songs and their ancient words.  This week is one of those low times.  The song playing in my head these days is Eye Has Not Seen by Marty Haugen, taken from 1 Corinthians 2:9-10. 

Praying comfort and peace for those who have lost loved ones recently.  May you feel God's love through his people this week, whether you are grieving a loss or just getting through your day.  



Eye has not seen,
ear has not heard
what God has ready
for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come,
give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.
(1) When pain and sorrow weigh us down,
be near to us, O Lord,
forgive the weakness of our faith,
and bear us up within your peaceful word. (Refrain)

(2) Our lives are but a single breath,
we flower and we fade,
yet all our days are in your hands,
so we return in love what love has made. (Refrain)

(3) To those who see with eyes of faith,
the Lord is ever near,
reflected in the faces
of all the poor and lowly of the world. (Refrain)

(4) We sing a mystery from the past
in halls where saints have trod,
yet ever new the music rings
to Jesus, Living Song of God. (Refrain)

Text: 1 Cor 2:9-10

Composer: Marty Haugen (1982)

Video and words taken from

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Even though it's cheesy and cliché, I love setting goals for the new year.  And since they're still young enough to think it's fun (and I can still bribe them with candy) I make my girls do it, too. 

We've been doing this for enough years now that the girls know how to give their answers some thought. And it's cute to compare their answers over time. 

Here are links to the ones I use for the girls from

I use a one-word new year goal sheet from the same website for my resolutions:

My word this year is wonder.  
There are multiple meanings to this word choice--stay with me.

My kids are at an age where everything they do is amazing. Maddie is beginning to blossom into a little lady. She's learning how to navigate the drama of middle school with grace and humor. She is so into Harry Potter it's almost scary. 

Ava is beginning to read and write. Her enthusiasm for using her newfound skills is inspiring. She loves doing anything her big sister does (sometimes to big sister's dismay). Her kind heart and sensitive soul make me want to be a gentler mother. 

Harper is doing new things every day and is revealing her personality. She loves making us laugh and is quickly learning how to push our buttons. She might just break me with her shoddy sleep habits, but she knows exactly how to turn on the charm when I'm feeling frustrated. 

I want to stop to wonder about who they are, who they're going to be, how I can best shape them, and how they are shaping me. I wonder how I've been so lucky to be their mom.

I'm also at a career crossroads. I wonder: what am I going to be when I grow up?  Will I teach again? Is my career headed on a different trajectory? Am I being a good enough ministry partner to my husband? Am I being a good MOPS ministry leader? I wonder: can I do it all well?  

I have the usual goals, too. Eat better. Make time for exercise. Write more. Rest. Date my husband. Read my bible.  Listen. 

I guess wonder is more about slowing down and reflecting on how richly blessed I am. Wondering about how my daily choices affect my little tribe and acting accordingly. Wondering about how I can better align my gifts and graces with a job outside the home. Wondering about how wonderful and terrible life can be at the same time. Wondering how great is our God.

Do you do resolutions?  If you had one word to focus on for 2015, what would it be?

Happy New Year, friends.