Creativity my fickle friend

Creativity is a fickle creature. Somedays I feel like I wake up and it springs upon me out of nowhere…similar to a Tigger-pounce onto pool ‘ol Winnie the Pooh.

Creativity says…“C’mon! Let’s go create! Let’s write, sing, paint…let’s do it all!! Ooh, did you think of this? Why don’t you make that?? So many ideas to be thunk up!!

Of course, those are usually the mornings when the To-Do list is a mile long, crowded with things that my brain tells me simply cannot be put off. There is that mountain of laundry that sprung up over the weekend, and bare cupboards that have been pillaged, and children that will want to eat again in just a few hours. (It doesn’t even matter what time it is…it’s a guarantee that in a matter of a few hours, they’ll be hungry again.) Groceries to be bought, rooms to be tidied, dog-hair laden floors to be swept, homework to be helped-with, practices to be takn-to-and-picked-up-from, budgets to be dealt with…and the list goes on and on.

And Creativity sort of hangs its head, and says “It’s okay. I understand.” And it quietly goes away.

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I’m sad about seeing it drift off…but alas, my world is comprised of realities that simply must be attended to.  I mean, I’m a responsible adult.  I don’t have time to just always fit in playfulness, or non-necessities.  Those are “me-time” sorts of things, frivoloties, and are only allowable after all the important things are done.

Right?

The problem is…while the “realities” are tended to, and Creativity is never allowed in, my soul starts to become so very parched. I begin to feel like a long-distance runner on a scorching hot day, never stopping to guzzle a nice, long drink of refreshingly cool water.

And then, when a random, undemanding day does roll around, and I want to beckon Creativity to come back…it is seemingly nowhere to be found. I think, “Oh, I have a bit of time today! I should write something. Or maybe paint something. I could do a bit of redecorating, or maybe a Pinterest craft.” But somehow, there’s just no heart behind the idea. My mind grants permission…but the feelings needed to release Creativity’s passion just aren’t there. Where did Creativity go? Why can’t I muster it up? Maybe I offended it by never making it a priority. Do you think?

Like a child with a story from their day that they are excitedly wanting to tell at the most inopportune time, I think maybe I’ve responded “Just a minute…maybe later…” one too many times. After being put-off for so long, I think Creativity just responds “Nevermind.” Like when I disappoint my child and don’t grant that listening ear, I need to go back and apologize for not making space. I need to take a breath, sit down, and open my heart, mind and soul…and, in this case, beckon Creativity back. I need to affirm that I should…nay, that I must…not only embrace, but give priority to, that part of me that needs to be nourished and nurtured.

Still, Creativity cannot be forced. I can’t sit at a desk and decide to conjure it up. I can’t make a 5 step action plan of how I’m going to force it to come about. It must be wooed. It must be reassured that it is welcome, and wanted. It must be allowed to return in it’s own time, on it’s own terms. I need to make space for it, and when it comes, celebrate it.  I have found that when it’s welcomed, like a dear friend, it tends to return more often.

Today, there are chores to be done, responsibilities to be handled…the same as every day. But I sense that Creativity is tentatively glancing my way, feeling out whether it is welcome or not. It will take an act of intentionality, but I will choose to encourage it to approach. I will decide that, at least for today, all the other demands can be relegated to other days, other times. Because there’s nothing fickle about grocery lists or laundry piles. They are fixed. If I ignore them now, it’s a sure thing they WILL be there tomorrow. (You can trust me on this one!)

Creativity, on the other hand…maybe, maybe not.

I don’t want to take the chance of driving it away again.

So feel free, my fickle friend to come bounding back in, bombarding my mind, tickling my heart and refreshing my soul. I won’t turn you away. In fact…I’ve missed you so very much. Granted, sometimes you scare me a little bit, but I’m getting braver. So, let’s make up. I promise to be kinder and to pay better attention to you. Let’s see what together we can do.

ebenezer

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come…”

Um…what??

These are words to an old hymn, ‘Come Thou Fount’, that I grew up singing. For most of the time I sang it, I had images of cranky old Ebenezer Scrooge, and wondered why we were singing about him in church. And how am I raising him? What does it have to do with help? (Are we talking about the transformed Scrooge at the end of the story? Because I know he became helpful then…) And what on earth does ‘hither’ mean??

But, as many things in life that we ponder as children, understanding came to me as an adult.

Merriam-Webster defines an ebenezer this way…

a commemoration of divine assistance”.

It comes from the book of Samuel, chapter 7:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

It is a word created from a combination of two Hebrew words… “eben”, meaning stone and “ezer” meaning help. (Which, as a side note, is a very beautiful word, also used by God in Genesis when He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone, and decided He would create a “help” for him…an “ezer”…the woman. But that will be another post entirely.) ;)

So quite literally, ebenezer is a “stone of help”.

Essentially, it’s a remembrance of God’s faithfulness and goodness. A visual aid to remind us of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come.

The idea of the ebenezer has become an important one to me. I love having reminders around me of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and in fact, I need them. I am encouraged when I look around and can say…

Oh, yes…God did that! Oh, wasn’t that such a huge blessing? Oh…and that…that was a painful time…I’m just glad God brought us out of that one alive!”

We need reminders, visual and otherwise, because sometimes we can get caught in the undertow of life, and we need a focal point. We need something to fixate on, and choose to center ourselves around.

I don’t know if you have ever been in a birthing class…and if you have you may remember (and if not, well, this is what they tell you)… “Choose a focal point.” They advise that you focus… completely zone-in on…one specific thing, and just. breath.

It’s what gets you through the most intense moments of the delivery process. It’s what helps you to muster the strength you need to push through. It’s what, essentially, keeps you from losing your….uh…marbles.

This, to me, is also the point of an ebenezer. You choose, quite purposefully, where to place your focus. Sure, life is swirling around. Sure, there’s pain. Sure, stuff hurts….a freakin’ lot!!

But I…we…like Samuel, can choose to remember…. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Last summer my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with trip to Florida. (Actually, we went almost a year late, so it was really 21 years; all the more reason to celebrate!) While we were on the beaches there, I collected shells.

Now, while I am a beach lover, I am not normally a shell collector. I’m the mean mom who makes the kids dump the buckets of them before we head home, because I don’t want the sand all over the van. Or, I’ll concede somewhat… “OK, you may keep your TWO favorite….the rest stay!”

But last year was different. It wasn’t just our normal vacation…it was a special, celebratory trip. We were honoring our marriage, the ways our relationship has grown, and the trials God has brought us through.

I wanted an ebenezer.

ebenezer shells

And so, simply, this jar of shells is my ebenezer. I love to look at it, and think of the memories of the time we spent together. I feel grateful for my husband, and for the journey we’ve shared. I am reminded by this visual to give thanks…and to keep on going.

Where do you have an ebenezer…and have you ever thought of it as such? Where could you use one? Is there an area of life…a relationship, a trial, a worry or fear…that you could use some help in being reminded how God has already been faithful…and how He will continue to be?

I would encourage you to go ahead and create some sort of ebenezer today. Give yourself a practical, tangible reminder…a focal point…to help you remember to breath, and just keep on keepin’ on. Put it someplace where you will see it regularly, like your table, dresser, or even the bathroom. (This is where my jar currently resides.) And when you see it, think…

Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

tribute to the dads in my life

Because we are still in full-on “go” mode, our celebrating of Father’s Day won’t happen til tonight…but I’ve been enjoying reading other’s posts and reflecting on dads.

My dad is gone, and I miss him, and think very often of how overwhelmingly proud he would have been of all of his grandchildren. I can just imagine how he would have beamed (or realistically, gotten all teary…because he did that a lot after the grandkids were born) at each of their performances, games, awards and accomplishments. I know he would have bear-hugged his “Peanut” with tears in his eyes at her graduation this weekend. He would have told everyone about the judge’s comments on his “Bubba’s” performance at the Boyertown Idol competition…and probably told a few people more than once. He would have been amazed at the plays on the baseball field that “Sunny” makes, and chuckled and gotten quite a kick out of the bigger-than-himself attitude (the same one that makes me, the mom, a bit crazy) that his “Doc” displays when he gets frustrated by the same game. He would have been sure to meet every one of my frustrations with my kiddos with a “Yeah, but…” because he could mostly only see the good in his grandchildren.

In the absence of my own dad, I’ve come to appreciate even more the relationship and involvement of my father-in-law in our, and our kids, lives. He has not only sat through many, many a baseball game, orchestra concert, choir concert, etc…he has helped to run to practices on weeks when they were having the kids stay with them…which was no small thing in itself! He went on a field trip when neither Todd nor I could make it, and if there has ever been anything we needed or asked of him, he has always gone out of his way to be there for us. He’s quick to encourage and affirm the things going on for us and the kids.  He’s both a great dad and grandfather.

And then, of course…my amazing husband. This man runs…I would say tirelessly, but to be honest, it’s VERY tiring, and most times he’s quite exhausted…yet always continues to push through on behalf of us. He has always made our marriage a priority…one of the best things we both believe that can be done for our children. He would be the first to downplay all he invests in our kids, and quick to feel it’s not enough…but I can see the impact he has on them. For each of our kids he is always “in their corner”…believing in them, seeing their potential, trying to figure out the best way to equip them to be all that God has created them to be.  He recognizes their individuality…the unique gifts and talents…and actively and dedicatedly gives his all to draw out their potential.  As with building anything, the process is long and slow, and it’s hard to see the progress sometimes…but Todd takes his responsibilities to build healthy kids very seriously, and I’m blessed far more than I could begin to express to be partnering in the journey called life with him. He’s my very best friend, and there’s no one else in the world that I would want to parent with more than him. I’m amazed by his dedication, his wisdom, and his love as a father.

Dads and granddads like these don’t just ‘happen’. Men make choices, make sacrifices and invest themselves in becoming like this for their families. Often it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. I suspect my own kids are a bit unaware of what an amazing dad they have, because it’s their ‘norm’. But one day, I do believe, they will look at their dad, and their grandfathers and feel the full weight of appreciation for them.

As for now, I do see it, and want to say Thanks…and Happy Fathers Day…to Todd, Marlin…and my daddy, though he be in heaven.

open letter to Little League coaches

Dear Coach,

First, let me commend you on the time and dedication that it takes to do what you do. I am very well aware (being married to a coach myself) of the hours that are required of you beyond the two-to-four that you are actually on the field. There is so much behind the scenes…the communication with the league officials and other coaches, communication with parents, coordinating game schedules, evaluations, field maintenance, preparing line ups…just to name a few. Your commitment to the game, your team and the community is no small one. And for that I say a sincere thank you.

Also, the knowledge and love of the game of baseball itself that you obviously possess is something I both appreciate and admire. There are more rules and intricacies than the average observer even really knows…especially in Little League, as there are specific requirements that are affixed beyond just a normal baseball game. There are codes of conduct to be observed, specifications of equipment and plenty of other details set in place to serve the best interest of the children involved.

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Which brings me to my main intent for this letter. The best interest of the children…can we talk about that for a moment?

After observing many a coach over the past seven years that my own three boys have been involved in Little League, I think maybe a reminder might be in order that this whole deal is supposed to be about the kids. It’s supposed to help them learn the game of baseball…give them an understanding of the fundamentals and develop skills. It also serves to teach them life skills such as team play and good sportsmanship. It’s about connection with other people in the community, citizenship and having fun. It’s supposed to teach them concepts such as respect and fairness and affirmation. In case you are unsure about the truth of those things, let me remind you of that little pledge that we have so often recited…

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Little League Pledge

I trust in God 
I love my country 
And will respect its laws 
I will play fair 
And strive to win 
But win or lose 
I will always do my best

Or maybe we should revisit the stated Mission of Little League, and let this sink in for a few moments…

Through proper guidance and exemplary leadership, the Little League program assists children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.

Proper guidance. Exemplary leadership.

That’s you, coaches. It’s also us, parents. I think maybe we all need to take a breath and calm down. We need to process some facts, and gain some perspective.

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Little League’s goal is NOT to produce superior athletes. Are there MLB players that started out in LL? Sure. Definitely. But here’s some cold hard stats that might help us to come back to reality, and hopefully enable us to chill out a little bit at the next big rivalry game between the local sporting goods store and the VFW.

According to Little League stats, fewer than 10 percent of all youth baseball players will even play high school baseball, let alone college or pro ball. Only 6.7 percent of high school seniors go on to play NCAA baseball—all divisions. Of that elite group, 9.7 percent will play professional ball at any level. Fewer than 1 percent of high school players will be drafted.*

Did you process that? Very few of our little guys will even continue to play through high school; next to none will actually make it to The Show.

Now, with all those insightful reminders, let’s make it personal.

We parents, we are entrusting our children to you. Not just their physical beings, but their emotional ones as well. I’ve learned a lot over the years about this whole releasing process. I’ve learned that, for boys, (because I can only speak from the perspective of boys in this area) there’s something about letting them take these first steps toward being men. I’ve learned to let them take their lumps and tough it out. I’ve learned to keep my butt firmly planted in that chair when my kid hits the ground in pain, and let the coaches rush to them first. I’ve learned to let others make the calls like “walk it off” or “put some ice on it”, and I’ve learned to trust that they’ll say “we need Mom over here…” when they really do. That’s no small thing, that trust I’m placing in you, Coach. But I’m willing to go there.

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I’ve learned not to be offended when my son gets yelled at to “Hustle!!” or when they have to take a lap for lack of effort. I’m not blind to my childrens’ flaws, bad attitudes or other areas that need improvement. I know that they can tend toward taking the easy way out, and sometimes need to be pushed. I’m under no delusion that I alone will work character in them. And I’m not at all opposed to them being made to work hard, or to be stretched in their ability to make them better. In fact, I’m all for those things.

What I really take issue with is when I see my own, or other children, putting forth effort and being shamed for lack of ability, or for lack of simply doing or being what you WANT them to. It’s when you remain deafeningly silent when the child who struggles to put the bat on the ball comes to the plate, because we all know you are filled with angst over having to ‘endure’ what you know is likely to happen in these moments. Where is the encouragement? Where is the affirmation for giving effort?

Do you remember why we are here? It’s not to win every game. It’s to build strong children.

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When you roll your eyes and turn your back on a child who has just struck out, you are communicating that they have completely and utterly failed. And more specifically, that they have failed YOU. When you actually say things like “good try” is a statement to not be made, because trying doesn’t matter if you don’t ‘succeed’….you have clearly lost sight of the big picture.

May I remind you that in every single MLB game I’ve ever watched there are many strike outs?

These children WANT to do well. They want to please you. They want to make their parents proud. Contrary to what you think, when you shame them, you are not spurring any kind of improvement…especially when their physical ability and skill level actually prevents them from even being able to meet your desires. You are working the exact opposite, in fact. You are tearing them down, you are robbing them of courage, and you are eroding their confidence toward stepping out, trying something new or pushing themselves to the next level.

Listen, I understand intensity. I understand a healthy level of competitiveness. I understand yelling coaching-statements such as “Where’s the play?”, “Ready positions!”, “Hit the cut-off!” and “Cover the plate!”

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I’m not even saying “Don’t yell.”

I’m saying, can you please stop demoralizing? Screaming statements like “What are you doing??” or disgustedly spatting “You should be better than that…” are not helpful. Those statements have gone beyond the actions of the game and are demeaning their personhood.  Sure, they probably had a moment of not knowing exactly what to do (as they are in the LEARNING phase of both life and baseball…so this happens, regularly), and whether they should or should not be better, in your opinion, is irrelevant.

And please, do not yell “What’s wrong with you?”, because I will happily answer that question for you right now. NOTHING. Nothing is wrong with that child! They are a child, they are learning the skills and thought processes involved in this game, and they simply might not be quite as adept at it as you are yet. Not surprising, since they are probably about 8-12 years old to your likely 30-40+ years.

Would this kind of berating work well to encourage you in your workplace? No? Then, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not going to work here either.

So, while I am able to entrust their physical being to your coaching care on the field, I need you to know that they are still not yours. I am, at this point, the final authority in their life, and I will not allow you to emotionally damage what I am working so very hard to build. If you would like to partner with me in building a strong person out of my child, I welcome you. But I will not allow you by words or actions to communicate to them that they are inferior, or lacking, or a failure in any way. They are not on that field solely for the purpose of winning, or fueling your competitive ego.

When your team walks off that field, heads hanging in shame, the failure is not theirs.  When specific players are named and blamed for a loss, the failure is not theirs.  When a child leaves a game, or a season, never again wanting to pick up a bat, the failure is not theirs.

It is yours.

Your job is not to produce a star athlete, it is to help build a healthy child.  Every loss experienced is an opportunity to teach character, and when that doesn’t happen, on the field, the blame is squarely on you.  (And let’s share the weight here…the conversation in the car on the way home, speaking in terms of good attitudes and sportsmanship falls to us parents.  We all need to own what’s ours here.)  Their job is simply to play hard and do their best.  Your job (and ours) is to lead and model exemplary behavior, sportsmanship and citizenship.  Win or lose.

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Little League is about the kids. With that in mind, can I ask you a favor?

Would you pause and take a moment to re-evaluate yourself? I mean…our kids – they are getting coached, evaluated and critiqued daily…so this really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Can you take a good hard look at yourself and ask why you are doing this?

What really matters to you?

Is it winning at all costs? Is it having the winning team every season, every year? Is it beating that other team because you despise that other coach so much? Are you willing to play dirty, bend the rules? Do you care more about the score than the players?  Is it living out some unrealized aspirations of your own?

If you answer yes to those questions, can I humbly ask that you consider stepping away?

Because answering yes to any of those questions signals that you have drifted away from what is meant to be the very heart and soul of Little League.

I value greatly your knowledge and understanding of baseball…but not more than I value courage, respect, honesty and integrity. If we are not in agreement on this, then I can’t, in good conscience, entrust my child to your influence. And frankly, I won’t. Because, while I have no grand illusions that my child is headed for the ‘big leagues’…even if they were, there’s no way I’d want them there without having instilled these foundational character qualities above all else.

One final thought. While a good dose of competition is fine, please try to remember this as well… These kids, the morning after the game, will walk to the bus stop together. They will show up at school, work on projects, participate in classes, play in concerts together. They ride bikes, swim at the pool, go to the movies together. TOGETHER.

They are friends and neighbors.

While they might be opponents for a few hours on this field, when they walk off, they…like we…are community.

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I think we’d all do well to remember this.

With deepest sincerity,

A Baseball Mom

P.S. – To all the fantastic coaches who are wonderful influences, and true exemplary leaders to our children, to us, and in our communities, I want to add an overwhelmingly heartfelt THANK YOU.  You are pillars in our kids lives and helping to form the future through our children in bigger ways than you will probably ever get to know.

*Source

feeling alive

Have you ever stopped to think about what it is that makes you feel most ‘alive’?

What activity, setting or people give you that overall sense of well-being or vitality? What fills you up so emotionally-full that you feel like your chest could burst (in a good way, of course, not a cardiac-arrest kind of way)?  What is it that makes you feel like you are doing the thing you were meant to do, or being your truest self?

Maybe you aren’t like me and don’t give this type of thing much thought.  I’m not saying that I think about this on a constant basis, but there are some certain things – activities, moments, settings – that I can pin-point in my life that answer these questions.  I would call them my Life Sweet-Spots.

Are you familiar with the term “sweet spot”?

sweet spot:  noun (informal)

- the point or area on a bat, club, or racket at which it makes most effective contact with the ball

- an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities

It’s that ‘thing’ that, when you connect with it, makes you soar.  

Over the years, I’ve come to know some of my personal sweet spots in life.  I think of them as the things that emotionally “fill my tank”.  They are the moments I can think back to where I feel like I am ‘thriving’, and they reaffirm to me in some way who I am.  When I’m getting weary with the daily grind, these are the things I begin to crave because they stir up and remind me of the more ‘fun’ side of myself.  They feel like the Me that I ‘want’ to be, not the me that I often ‘have’ to be.

Lest this sound too ‘lofty’, let me forewarn you that the things I’m thinking of are not deeply ‘profound’ spiritual times…they are simply “enjoying life” moments.  Which, I’m coming to a growing understanding, is actually deeply spiritual in itself.  I believe that God created us to enjoy this life.  Not to endure it; not to survive it.  That mentality is the result of living in a fallen world.  God’s original design was for us to find deep satisfaction and pleasure in the world He created, in one another, and in Him…as He interacts with us in all the things that we enjoy.  Beauty, food, relationships, rest and relaxation…all God’s ideas.

Which makes even the simplest of pleasures deeply spiritual.

That being said, I thought I’d share with you some of my “sweet spot” moments…not because they will be even remotely similar to the things that set a spark inside you (some of mine are fairly random), but because maybe it will encourage you to explore for yourself the things that make you come alive.

They may seem silly at first…I’ve often wrestled with the ridiculousness or unexplainability of the things that make me so profoundly happy.  I’ve come to the conclusion…it doesn’t matter.  Some of them make sense, some not.  Some are ‘big’ some are ‘small’, but whatever they are, all I need to know is, they help.  They energize me; they feed my soul.  Rather than fight that, or write it off as silly…I choose to embrace it.  Celebrate it.  And anticipate those times of pleasure and refreshment and joy.

Sometimes it takes work…a lot of work…to make them a reality.  There’s planning, saving, scheduling, preparing…  And then other times, it’s simply a matter of remembering to do the little things that help, on a regular basis.  When I do, I am reminded why they are so valuable, and I begin scheming in my little brain about the next time I can plan for one of those revitalizing times.

So here are some of my ‘sweet spots’…

  • Time away, alone, with my husband where we can talk for hours, learn and discuss, have fun and be silly or do absolutely nothing together.

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  • Sitting on the beach, staring at the vastness of the ocean, and listening to the waves…
  • Basking in the sunshine…doesn’t even have to be anywhere special…my patio will do just fine!

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  • Awesome Italian food, in an at-least-somewhat-authentic Italian setting, with good music (especially Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra)

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 And last, but not least…my smallest of pleasures that I can count on for a quick pick me up…  Painting my nails, dressing up nicely, cranking some music and driving fast with the windows down.  Not necessarily all together…but that certainly works too!

So…have you thought about it?  What are the things that you just love to do, the places you love to go, or the people you love to be with?  When do you feel the most alive?  What moments do you look at and think that the ‘real you’ emerges fully?

I realize, the ‘big’ things that we enjoy aren’t always feasible in every given season.  But I just so believe that it’s worth investing a little time, energy and planning for trying to at least make room for some of your smaller ‘refillers’ so that life doesn’t become something you are merely enduring.

We were not created to endure…we were created to thrive!!

So here’s to you…to the weekend…to enjoying life…and to being fully alive!

“L’Chaim!  To life!!”