Upcycled

Upcycling: the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality.

Our garage is a wasteland of Stuff We Don’t Want To Throw Out, But Which Is Too Junky For the House. It is also a holding area for Trash I Must Take To the Dump. For an item to be consigned to the garage, it has to be pretty pathetic – worse, for example, than the end table I trash picked in 1999 that still resides in my living room.

This garage, weirdly, is my oldest’s favorite room in the house. She spends hours going through the junk and transforming it, with a little spray paint and hot glue, into incredibly intricate props for the Cosplays she loves. She made the most incredible suit of armor (with moveable parts!) with some odds and ends she found languishing in there.

So, what seemed past its prime and destined for the junk heap finds new life, through the vision, creativity, and determination of my daughter. Hipsters call this “upcycling.” I am normally not a fan of anything Hipster, being unable to grow a mountain man beard or pull off the Skinny Jean look. But I like this Upcycling thing.

I remember how 25 years ago, in my college years, I was so embarrassed by what was inside of me that I couldn’t bring myself to look someone in the eye and have a conversation, afraid that they would see what a mutant I was. Crashing and burning in my college studies, I gathered the courage to open up to a professor about my inner turmoil, and he responded, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you have more problems than anyone I’ve ever met. You need to get some help.” I slunk away and cut his class for the rest of the semester. I got a D, effectively ending my studies in my chosen major, and severely eroding my sense of worth.

And out of that wasteland of shame and failure and insecurity, God began to set the stage for my freedom.

I don’t buy into the “everything happens for a reason” platitude. Parents bury their babies. Children are enslaved and sexually exploited. Families are torn apart through death and divorce and war. These are horrific and life-altering, and anyone touched by tragedy can give multiple examples of wanting to put a well-meaning person’s head through a wall for trying to throw some version of this Band-Aid on their gaping, festering wound.

But I am living proof that there is a God, strong and loving, who is in the business of actively repurposing the pieces of our lives that appear broken beyond repair, if we invite him into our mess. Sometimes I’m pretty sure he’s using using the X-acto knife and the hot glue gun on me, and frankly, this does not feel fun. But I know where I’ve come from, and I know that the work in me is not yet complete. It will be, though. Because the God I’ve invited in to the garage of my broken emotions and junked dreams is using his vision and creativity and determination to make me into a beautiful, functional, Upcycled work of art.

Do you think it’s possible that God might want to do some Upcycling in the parts of you that seem broken beyond repair?

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Fried

Sometimes, your brain doesn’t work to make words flow on a page because it is fried. Sometimes, you have a rough day and get home and realize you forgot to put the chicken in the crock pot. The announcement comes that school is canceled for the next day, so to celebrate/give up you declare a Leftover Meatball and Peanut M&M Dinner, which makes you your kids’ hero, and then you watch three straight episodes of “The Amazing Race” together. Because you don’t want to be a Total Slacker Mom, you contribute to your percussionist son’s music education by showing him YouTube videos of Ed Grimley’s triangle solo. After scooting everyone off to bed, you sit and write a stream-of-consciousness blog post, just for the discipline of it, though your brain isn’t working. The tape of that rough part of your day plays constantly in the background of your fried brain, chewing endlessly on that circumstance that you cannot change, and you know that all you can do is look to God and do the next right thing and stop obsessing, already – which is much easier said than done. You think about how your sweet coworkers listened to your grief and fears and prayed over you, and about how your daughter leaned into you while you scratched her back, and how another daughter wrapped her arms around your neck and whispered, “You’re a good mom.” “Do these precious kids have any idea how much healing balm is in their warm touch, their gentle words?” you wonder. You hope so. You hope they realize that they are the best thing that ever happened to you. Then you decide to quit rambling and try to coax your fried, overactive brain into shutting down for the night. After you check your Facebook one last time.

directionally challenged

I am good at lots of things. Finding my way around is not one of them. I once lived right on Lake Michigan, which was great, because I could only get lost in three directions.

I’ve been Directionally Challenged sometimes when picking a route in life, as well. Maybe there’s a correlation between being unable to hold a map in your head and being unable to identify the best job to take, or the right guy to marry, or the college major that leads to an actual career path.

And yet, here I am, almost certainly past the halfway point of my life, with four kids that love “Bohemian Rhapsody” as much as I do, a job that fills me with a sense of purpose, friends who laugh and cry with me and cheer me on, who are not above calling me out on my crap when it surfaces, but who love me in spite of it. How in the WORLD did that happen?!?

It happened, I realized yesterday, because most of my original plans have failed miserably. I was forced to move against my will – twice – and ended up owning my own little sweet piece of Suburbia with the best neighbors you can imagine. The job I took that looked perfect on paper ended up being a complete disaster in about thirteen different ways. So I quit, then started volunteering with an organization while trying to figure out who would hire a Middle Aged Inept Newbie – only to learn that the organization was looking to hire someone with my skill set.

Even the devastation from divorce has yielded an amazing amount of fruit among the carnage. Since my college days, I’ve had a dream to be able to encourage and equip single moms in practical ways –  never dreaming that I would become a single mom myself. Now, I have the privilege of helping connect single moms with needed resources, as they work to manage what is definitely a two-person job. We share a common struggle, these women and I. Because I “get it,” I’m given a place to speak into their lives that could not have existed otherwise. God doesn’t waste our pain, if we allow him access.

Life is not all Rainbows and Lollipops. I make stupid decisions, and others make bad choices that impact me, and I reap the consequences for both of these. But God is bringing me and my family to a good place, despite my Directionally Challenged nature. The times I thought I was being blown hopelessly off course were, I think, the times God was honoring my prayer to save me from myself, recalibrating my compass and directing me toward something better.

 

 

 

50 LASHES WITH A WET NOODLE

One disadvantage of parenting four kids in various stages of puberty and adolescence is that you lose your ability to justify your bad behavior by telling yourself that you’re the Most Hormonal Person in the House.

There is a definite flip side to this coin, however, which is that when you see your bossy, controlling ways reflected in the sweet faces staring up (or, in my case, down) at you, you immediately know where they learned it. This can be a powerful motivator to model something better.

My kids, blessedly, have always been good at giving feedback when my behavior crosses into the Unacceptable Range. When they were younger they developed a code word, “noodle,” that they would use when they saw my patience evaporating, my teeth clenching, and my vocal pitch rising. “Noodle” was code for, “Hey, Mom, we can see that you’re about to blow a gasket, and as this is a generally unpleasant experience for us, do you think you could be the adult in this situation and take a minute to calm the heck down before you go Madea on us?” It was an immediate window into the effect my uncontrolled emotions were having on my little ones, and when I heard the words, “Noodle, Mom,” it gave me an opportunity to head off a full-blown Mommy Tantrum.

These days, I don’t hear the word Noodle much, but I do hear my kids verbalize that they feel I am being unfair, bearing down on them unreasonably, or going full-out Madea on them. I am grateful to God that they tell me when they feel they’re being steamrolled. I hope that they grow up to be women and men who will not accept unacceptable behavior, even from those they love.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The sharpening process is full of friction. Sparks fly. But oh, my goodness, are these precious kids sharpening me, making me a better woman. Noodle on, my Sweeties.

Sucky Manager Mom

Several years ago, I hauled my Middle Aged Hindquarters back to school. I graduated, after successfully regurgitating a decent percentage of the knowledge crammed into my brain. This was the beginning of a career change for me – one of those jobs in which the degree is necessary, but where you really only learn the skills after you start actually working.

It was a steep learning curve. There are few things less fun than being a Middle Aged Inept Newbie, fumbling around, trying desperately to gain competence. One thing that makes this less fun is having a manager who is nasty about the fact that you are learning and slow and inexperienced. I was tempted to suggest that, as she was infinitely more skilled at my job and I was infinitely more skilled in managing people, perhaps we should switch jobs. I held my tongue. I think that was a good move.

Being shamed full-time because my skills were not yet where they needed to be was, frankly, a Very Sucky Experience. But it gave me a valuable reminder of what it’s like to be a kid. My children’s whole world is Learning New Skills, working hard to attain competence, and oftentimes falling short of perfection. And I am their Manager. I began asking myself hard questions, like “Am I communicating, through my words and actions, that my kids’ job is to be perfect, or to do their best? Am I supporting them in learning new skills, or am I shaming them because they fell short of perfection?” I saw that, in some ways, I acted like Sucky Manager Lady with my kids. And I began to change. I’m thankful to God for using that humbling, painful job experience to allow me to walk a mile in my kids’ moccasins.  I needed to remember, so that my kids would not be stuck with a Sucky Manager Mom.

Dreams Do Come True

I’m bad about letting myself be spooked by Unknowns and What-Ifs. When things happen that you didn’t anticipate in your worst nightmares, it’s easy to live waiting for the next shoe to drop. If I obsess over what might happen, I tell myself, I’ll be prepared if the unthinkable ever happens again. Which it probably will, since it happened before. Or so my warped thinking tells me.

As my children grow and make more of their own decisions, it is a struggle sometimes to not imagine all the horrible What-Ifs that might come upon them (and me) as a result of their choices, should they choose poorly. Now, I must say that my kids are turning out far better than they have any business turning out, and I have every indication that they will make it into adulthood as contributing, well adjusted members of society. Still, the fear of What-Ifs and Unknowns gnaws in my gut. After all, we’re not living in a fairy tale, and Happily Ever After rarely happens in this life.

But sometimes, it does. Today, a dear friend received the deepest desire of her heart. She has hoped and prayed and ached for this moment for a long while. A week ago, it was still unknown to her that this gift was on its way, imminent, just around the corner. The wait was almost over, and she didn’t even know it. Last week, she wondered whether her dream would ever be fulfilled, with no guarantees that it would ever come to pass. Today, her prayers are answered. Just like that.

It reminds me that God is at work in ways I cannot even imagine. The prayers, the tears, the heartbreak I pour out does not fall upon deaf ears. God is at work in the Unknowns. Working for my good. For my kids’ good. He has plans to answer the deepest desires of my heart with good gifts. Gifts that may appear at any time. Just like that.