the importance of cheerleaders

photo cred: College of San Mateo Library
photo cred: College of San Mateo Library

I was in Ceres, California last Monday when I heard Glenn Frey had passed away. And the mental collision was so real.

I did two years of high school in that town. And one of those years, I tried out for cheerleading.

We had to do a yell routine, of course, and I was astonishingly not good at that part. But I was even worse at the dance routine — which was “The Heat is On” sung by Glenn Frey. It’s been 30 years, but I can still dance the first sets of beats.

These moves have provided endless entertainment for my family and a few select friends over the years. I’m sure I remember them so well because it is the only dance routine I ever learned… Our cheerleaders at Ceres High School were awesome dancers. And I was an awesome, rhythmless, regular Baptist.

(Oh, BTW, my sincere apologies to the friends I would have loved to see in California, but it was a whirlwind one-day visit for my Grandma’s 90th birthday. Go Grandma!!! *insert pom pom shake here*)

I always wanted to be a cheerleader. I love, love, love synchronization. Whether it’s dance moves, or coordinating colors, or plot lines. It’s all so lovely to watch. Movement, staging, timing = favorite things.

When I think about why cheerleading was so hard for me (high school was not my first attempt to make the squad), I can acknowledge now that, in addition to being terribly uncoordinated, I’ve always been too self-conscious. There’s a certain amount of just going for it that a person needs in order to cheer well.

But, I’m getting pretty decent at cheering from the sidelines these days — as long as I keep it under a certain decibel. My yell is weird. And sort of screamy. The voice comes out not at all what I imagine it to be in my head. Something about watching my babies do stuff out there just makes me lose my self-consciousness and yell out their names. Which they just LOVE!

As much as they may hate it in the moment, they will remember mom (and dad) shouting praises from the sidelines for the rest of their lives.

Because praise, encouragement, cheer… everyone needs this. Everyone.

In fact, nothing simultaneously makes me angry and breaks my heart more than hearing parents yell from the sidelines in angry, disgusted tones at their kids.  I’ve been at games where I wanted to tell some parents to GO HOME. I cannot imagine listening to anything more discouraging than your voice. Your baby has run 18 miles today in the blazing sun. Give him a break!

All of us need cheerleaders. We do. Especially at critical points of life when discouragement clings to you, sucks you in, and threatens to drown you like quicksand.

I’ve been reading “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker and in one chapter she puts on her old cheerleader voice to tell her readers some things. I needed to read this pep talk and maybe you do, too.

Here’s what she said that just lifted me right out of my pajamas, into the shower to ponder, and back into my bathrobe (keepin it real here) to write this post:

We will cheer each other on, refusing to speak doubt into our gifts. When you are scared, I will declare, ‘You can do this.’ When you whisper a dream, I’ll holler through a bullhorn that you are brave and wonderful and important! When I am beaten down, you will remind me that I am an approved worker with no shame….Let’s do this. Let’s fulfill the good work we’ve been commissioned to. Silence any voice that whispers ‘not enough’ and stand in truth as an approved worker. You are. Jesus made you so. If God surveyed the cross and declared it finished, then it wasn’t sufficient for everyone but you. If Jesus covered it all, then He covered it all….If you need to deal, then deal…Forgive, release, acknowledge, confront, feel the feelings, let something go, believe the truth, whatever you need to do. Then dust your hands off and get ready to go….This really is your one wild and precious life. You matter so much. You are writing a good story for your children. Your community and church need you, your neighbors and family need you, God adores you and Jesus is obsessed with you. Here we are, your community of women running this race together, proud of you, moved by you.

-Jen Hatmaker, For the Love

I need people in my life who cheer for me. My husband, my kids, relatives — they do an amazing job at this. And oh how I love my dear friends who speak even the smallest words of encouragement to me. Friends who believe I can. And should.

I’ve got enough negative words in my own head about myself. I don’t need more. You don’t need more. We’re stuck in an ugly, losing game sometimes. Heckled by our own hearts.

Maybe you feel beaten down and discouraged, too. Maybe you don’t have cheerleaders in your life, or your cheerleaders are fighting their own battles. Maybe you need to do what I’m going to do and Stuart Smalley that quote from Jen Hatmaker right onto your bathroom mirror and “silence any voice that whispers ‘not enough’ and stand in truth as an approved worker.”

And if you’re dealing with a husband, wife, child who is struggling with addiction (or anything else for that matter) take some time to think about your role in their life.

Are you the voice on the sidelines (maybe you need to get back to the sidelines) calling out every wrong move, every failed attempt when they’re fighting to get on their feet? Or do you cheer them on toward victory?

Cheering on someone you love through recovery takes selflessness and patience. We have to set aside our uncertainties, insecurities, fears and allow hope to fill us and give us grace and encouraging words. And pray for wisdom. Lots and lots of wisdom.

I suppose the same is true for any relationship, really.

Encouragement revives.

* * * * *

Who in your life needs your words of encouragement? A child, a spouse, a pastor, a friend?

Sometimes, you just need to go for it.

But maybe not with pom poms.

…encourage one another and build each other up…

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

 

 

 

Life should be celebrated. And that includes birthdays.

This past week, I reached an age I’ve been dreading.

No, it’s not 50. But I’ve spent months avoiding thinking about this birthday, so there was quite a bit of angst in the days leading up.

I made good use of my pensive reflectiveness and wrote some thoughts about getting older.

I jotted them down on scraps of paper, spoke them into my voice recorder as I drove, wrote them in my journal, voxed (Voxer is an awesome smartphone app) them to my sister and even got so far as to write a few drafts of thoughts here.

Some thoughts were complaints, really. About catching my reflection in the mirror and not recognizing myself. About memory and the lack of it. About sleep and aches and wrinkles.

Some thoughts were mournful and full of regrets and should haves. I questioned all my life choices, my mothering, my relationships, my work…

My mother was the one who put my lament to words. I like to call and thank her on my birthday, you know, on account of all the work she did to bring me into the world. It’s as much a celebration for her as it is for me.

Neither one of us enjoys math, so I just tell her right out how old I am now so she doesn’t have to do any calculating. “Ah,” she says. “You’re closer to XX than XX now.”

Precisely…

People who are better with words than numbers just round things up or down…

and that is why I have been feeling so sorry for myself. We’re past rounding down now.

I know every one of you who has passed the 50 year line is saying, “Forty-something? You’re still a baby!” Which is exactly what I want you to say. It makes me feel better. Please keep saying it.

And math is also responsible for this new habit I have of noting whose parent I could be. NCAA basketball player? I could be his mom! The guy giving the presentation at work? I could be his mom! The new PE teacher? I could be her mom! But wait, you don’t do math, you say.  Well, it’s easy. I just laid awake one night and divided my age in half (which every second grader could do with my age), realized that’s how old I was when I got married, used that number as a convenient dividing line, and now anyone who is younger than that is officially my offspring. It’s not exact.

Story problems…

My sons are actually good at math and are not into rounding down, especially if it involves skipping past another rounding point. They are into exact. Some years ago now, when they were in the habit of  asking how old are you? how old is dad? how old is grandma? how old is that guy?, I told them I was 32.

The boy who was in second grade at the time was immediately suspicious. He said, I thought you were 38 last year and refused to comply with my request to default to “32” moving forward.  He was right. Good memory, that one.

They have learned, however, so this year when they asked and I said, “As far as you’re concerned I’m 39,” they didn’t object. If they did any math, they did it in their heads — and kept the answer to themselves.

But then as my birthday approached, heartbreak and pain and loss touched people around me and across the world, and I snapped out of my mourning for myself. Mourning is for loss and I have gained. I am blessed, so very, very blessed to have lived this many years. And life should always be celebrated.

The processing the passing of time is necessary for growth. Reflecting on the bad and good, remembering God’s grace, mercy and His deep love.

“Teach us to number our days,” said Moses, “that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) 

The problem is we get stuck counting — I get stuck there — counting yesteryear’s messes and failures. I let them weigh on me and press doubt into my calling. I let them silence me.

This year, rather than resist time, I will try to embrace it. I will keep asking God for a heart of wisdom and keep leaning on my sisters and mothers and grandmothers ahead of me.  I’ll own my years, because I have always believed that experience — both good and bad — has value and the wisdom that comes with age has inestimable worth. I will not stop believing that now, even if it scares me.

And I will number my days.

They are 16,790.

I’ll let you do the math…

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dear mom who is trying to do everything right

Somewhere in that picture, there’s a baby.

She’s wearing her “in case the ultra-sound was wrong” turned “emergency backup clothes for when I don’t get out to the shared laundry” blue long johns. (It was a good thing I had several back ups.)

I put this picture in her baby book, captioning it: Mommy was afraid she’d make a mistake! and laughing at myself a little. I had just had baby number three when I wrote it — bathing a baby wasn’t such a big deal anymore.

But the first bath? I remember reading the list in the What to Expect Book carefully and following every detail. Like I was making a lemon meringue pie. Or replacing the water pump in a car. I had never washed a newborn before! I needed detailed instructions. And when I took a step back to see what the supply list looked like in real life, well, I had to take a picture.

But it was only the beginning of trying to do it all right: crying it out, pacifiers, potty training . . .

It’s funny, looking back . . . Our first three babies each came home with a different instruction for how to lay them in their crib. Side, tummy, back . . . and car seats changed from front to rear facing. It was a struggle to keep up with the latest thing that’s best for your baby. I didn’t always. I couldn’t.

Twenty years have passed since that first baby bath. And I’ve made more mistakes in parenting than 25 year old me would care to know. She would judge me. Me and my dirty van and my belly fat. Because she was determined to get it as right as possible.

I’ve had to learn to relax a little and be okay with some imperfection. I mean, I was the mom with the birthday themes you couldn’t buy party goods for at Party City — making fancy cakes and invitations. And look at me now — I sent a cake mix, cup cake liners and candles to my college girl to help celebrate her 20th birthday and didn’t even think about frosting til I walked out of the post office.

But I have to be honest with you, every now and then an accusing voice says you did it all wrong, it’s because you didn’t ____  and other sorts of things accusing voices say.

So I listen for a minute, or a while, or a season, and try and separate the truth from the lies. And then I have to tell myself some truth: So many of the things we think are important for our kids just aren’t.

Sleeping all night by three months old? Not necessary.

Preschool? Not necessary. (Unless it’s for mom’s sanity.)

Having their own room? Not necessary.

A smart phone? Not necessary.

How do I know these things? Because none of them were a big deal until our lifetime.

Babies were born and bathed for generation upon generation without What to Expect. And babies slept next to mom for warmth and protection and were probably nursed back to sleep so they didn’t wake pa and the other kids up before morning chores. And in some states, still, kids aren’t required to be formally educated until age 8 — long past pre-school.

Oh, mom trying to do everything right, do you love your children with your whole life? Then you already are doing it more right than you know. Forget the trappings of baby and childhood that are all the rage today and gone tomorrow. Think of what lasts. It’s not the latest must-have your child needs. It’s you.

You are showing your child God’s love through every bath you give, every meal you make, every nose you wipe, every dream you encourage, every time you drop them off or pick them up when it’s totally inconvenient.

And in the middle of all that business of life, you are going to make mistakes.

But that love you have for your child, that sacrificial love, is going to carry you and that child through all the mistakes you are going to make — and all the mistakes that child is going to make because she’s not perfect either. Love, dear mom, covers a multitude of sins.* 

So why do we stay up so late then, and get up so early and wear ourselves thin and ragged?

Sometimes it’s love, yes. But I wonder sometimes if it’s because we’re trying so very, very hard to do it all just exactly right. And perfectionism doesn’t translate so well into love.

Love your children with you today. Love them even if it gets really messy and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

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*1 Peter 4:8

 

 

dear mom who feels the darkness

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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