28 July 2014

Of Continuing the Tradition

Once upon a time there was a little girl - a princess in her own right. And every month, as a part of the routine school day, she would receive a precious white sheet of paper containing the key to the realm holding her some of her family's most precious memories. For on that paper were coupons . . . to a magical place called . . . Skateland.

And just about once a month, the family would load up the car on Friday night, head to the edge of the kingdom of La Vista, Nebraska, and pull into the parking lot of the white brick building with bold black lettering spanning the length of the wall, declaring its name to the world. They would find a secluded table, lace up their tan rentals with orange wheels and hit the polished wood rink. The lights were always too dark to make out much, unless you were there, in the center of the action, or you donned your very own glow stick.

And when the announcer would declare a couples skate, the princess would push herself off the floor, except for that magical time of night when it was her turn with the king - her daddy. And they would hold hands as they floated around the rink to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus crying about his Achy Breaky Heart.

They were fond memories, indeed.

That same princess grew up. And though it had been years, the day she married her very own prince, they celebrated on a rink of blue. They danced their first dance and skated their first skate in their beautiful wedding attire. And her mother and father, who had spent months joining awkward pre-teens at their local rink, preparing their bodies for the task at hand, were there, too.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Thus, the princess found herself, eight years later - having not donned skates since that magical day she joined her life with her prince - at the same skating rink with her very own little princess.

The little one's legs were shaky and unsure. The orange wheels pulled themselves from under her more than once and she eventually needed a brace - patched together from PVC pipe and a little duct tape - to even stay upright without her mother using every muscle to keep her on her feet. The little princess was scared - terrified, even - but she pushed through. She would take a lap and take a break, but each time, she would muster up her resolve and declare, "I want to go back out there." She fell and let her mommy pick her up. She teased her mommy when she, too, took a couple of stumbles. She wore a brave smile and let loose cautious giggles. She was vulnerable and courageous. And they skated the couple skate (though no Billy Ray Cyrus was to be heard) and watched the glow-skate. The older princess was proud, heart overflowing.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Lacing her up (this task is SO much harder than it looks!)

Ready to roll!

This face, her expression after her first go-around, sans brace, sums up how she felt about the experience in the beginning.

Stretching her skating legs.

*Many thanks to the dear friends who invited Micaiah to her first-ever skating party and for letting me join in the fun!

19 July 2014

Of Vacation Bible School

I wasn't going to help with VBS. I mean, I really wasn't going to. Because, while I love my own kids, working with little kids has never really been my thing. I didn't baby-sit much when I was younger, and when I did, well, let's just say I never had repeat customers. Once upon a time I thought I'd actually teach elementary school, but an experience as a camp counselor with a crying fourth-grader taught me I'd much rather deal with older kids - the ones who could understand and appreciate my sarcasm and bump their heads without being sent to the nurse.

So Vacation Bible School? No. Not for me.

As the signs were going up, I was getting my excuses ready. I'd just had a baby - I should stay home with her. I was looking forward to the time with my boys, while older sister was learning about Jesus. We'd go to the library, maybe even go to the movies. It was going to be nice. And it wasn't going to involve me wrangling a bunch of other peoples' kids.

But God has a funny way of talking us into things. And He was real subtle about it, too.

Because first, it was that our church was taking a mission trip to my in-laws' church to do - guess what - VBS. And I wasn't necessarily going to participate in that, but wouldn't it be nice to at least visit Gram and Grandy while our church was there? But then we could just ride with the church, right? But I guess if we're going to ride with the church we should actually help. Darn it.

And so we did. I actually taught crafts (ok, I assisted someone else who put a great deal of time and effort into planning and then teaching - I mostly just manned the hot glue gun, a task I hate, but it was a mission trip after all, it's all about expanding the comfort zone, even if that means burnt fingers and strings of glue) while my littles, led by Gram, made the rounds.

And it was so darn cute watching little two-year-old Joseph, proudly holding his Bible Story paper, huge grin on his face, as he went from one class to another. And hearing him sing the songs on the way home each evening? Be still my heart.

Then it hit me. My boys love this. I mean, they really enjoy VBS. And now they know what VBS is. So, darn it, if I'm taking their big sister to VBS at our church and we're dropping her off together, they'll know what they're missing. And a trip to the library isn't going to cut it.

I was in a quandary. Until someone suggested I volunteer. Because the children of volunteers, particularly those in Emmett's age bracket, would get to participate in VBS.

So for the sake of not hearing a tantrum every morning for a week, I sacrificed my excuses and signed myself up. But maybe I'd just help with snacks. Because if there's one thing I can do, it's feed people.

But God had other plans. I wasn't just working with the kids - I was going to work with the littlest ones - the ones who just graduated from Pre-K and Kindergarten - the ones most apt to cry and be incapable of standing in a line. But who would have guessed? By the middle of the week, I was actually having fun. I had the privilege of watching my big girl answer questions in Bible School and make new friends. I hugged and loved on little ones who weren't my own, but gave me the sweetest grins. I held little hands and supervised bathroom visits. And I wasn't really hating any of it.

And this morning? On the last day? God showed me the purpose of all of it.

My big little boy, the one I did all this for - just so he could go to Bible School - told me he wanted to take "a lot" of money to church, so I took his monster bank down from the shelf. I pulled out bills from past birthday money. The first I pulled out was a twenty, which seemed like maybe too much, so I dug around until I found a five. And I explained to him which was which. He had been completely satisfied with the 17 cents he'd taken earlier in the week and I'd wondered if he might change his mind, after all, and opt for the handful of coins that had come out, as well. He chose the twenty.

I wasn't sure he understood what he was doing, so, just to check, I asked, "Why do you want to take so much money to church?"

I thought he would mention the balloon he would get to put in the big representative drinking glass, the visual reminder of why they were collecting money anyway. Or he might mention just getting to put the money in the green bucket.

Instead, he said, "So that lots of kids in India can have clean water!"

Oh my goodness. And a little child led me.

This VBS thing? The thing I fought so hard? It's changing the hearts of my children.

And to be honest? It's changing the heart of their mother.

I'm thinking God knows what He's doing. And my name just might be the first on that volunteer list next year.

12 July 2014

Of Raising Cowboys

The beauty of living in a smallish/biggish town is that it's the best of both worlds. We've got what this "city"(ish) girl calls civilization (because as soul-sucking as it is, I used to believe you couldn't call it a town if it didn't have a Wal-Mart - Oklahoma has well proven me wrong by now), but we've also got a little bit country going on over here. Which means we can take an afternoon drive through the back roads to see horses and cattle (and squirrels - which we didn't have much of in our old house, so Micaiah called them "wild animals" when we saw them on the outskirts).

It also means every summer . . . the rodeo comes to town! And this isn't your average small-town rodeo. I mean, it's a big-time deal, with participants from all over the nation converging on our streets and grocery stores for a week every July.

And I used to not really care. I'd notice the signs in town welcoming the visitors, and I'd notice the increase in traffic, but that was about it. The hullabaloo didn't have much to do with me (I was still clinging to the city in me, I suppose).

And then I had kids. Kids who, like all little ones, love animals and cowboys. And I saw the yearly rodeo with new eyes - an experience our children would adore. So, this year, we piled in and headed out.

I didn't tell them before-hand where we were headed (which can be a hit-or-miss strategy - sometimes it leads to squeals of excitement when they figure it out, other times it leads to, "But where's the surprise?"), but as we traversed the parking lot, spying teenagers in wide-brimmed hats grooming their steed, they started the squealing. Cowboys! Cowgirls!

And as we entered the arena, with a sea of real cowboys and girls atop their horses, waiting for their turn to compete, they were in awe. And so was I.

Here was this crowd of teenagers, mostly, who had the discipline and drive to devote themselves to the animals in their care - training them to move with precision and speed. They had trained their own bodies to endure the trials of being bucked from animals weighing hundreds of pounds. They had learned to wrestle cattle, throw an effective lasso and avoid the stomping hooves of angry bulls.

I want my kids to be cowboys. And if they can't manage to procure their own beasts of burden, perhaps they can find some way to at least rein in the spirit of perseverance and hard work that comes with the territory. I want them to own the courage and tenacity it takes to pick yourself up, dust off your pants, and get right back in the ring. I want them to tackle their problems with focus and determination, prepared to wrangle the issue to the ground and lift their hands in triumph upon completion (even if victory was more difficult and harder coming than anticipated).

And it wouldn't hurt if they'd don a cowboy hat every now then - because everyone looks good in a cowboy hat.

Suckers instantly make any experience that much better.

Look at all those cowboys back there!

It was a rainy day, so here she is, middle of July, cuddling from the cold. As she snuggled, I taught her to count the seconds during the bull riding, to judge how good the ride was. She got just as excited as we did when a couple riders stayed on for the full eight-count.