Sheep Need Underpants, Kids Need Play... And You Need a Free Book

I am very excited to be hosting Lee Hull Moses today at The Blue Room. She is co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, available from Alban and from Amazon. Believe me, it's good---really good. Smart and funny, eloquent and real. It's John Wesley meets Tiny Fey. We're also excited to be giving away a free copy of this book. See the bottom of this post for details. And now, take it away Lee...

4766601577_93ec78a50b_b“Let go of your tongue!” the mother next to me shouts to her daughter, who is lining up with the other five-year-old soccer players in the middle of the field. The girl looks over at her, still gripping the tip of her tongue with her finger and thumb. “Let go of your tongue!” the mother shouts again.

The girl lets go long enough to shout something back, something about a hurt finger. Neither the other mother nor I can figure out what this has to do with her tongue, but then the coach blows the whistle and play resumes. The mom looks at me in exasperation: the things you never thought you’d have to say out loud.

(“Yes, sheep wear underpants,” I once told my daughter Harper, trying to move along the getting-dressed routine on the morning of the church Christmas pageant.)

This is our first foray into organized sports, and I have to admit, it’s not as terrible as I feared. I signed her up for this 8-week league partly out of peer pressure (all the other parents seem to have their kids in activities like this), partly out of guilt (she’s been asking for dance classes for years and we can’t seem to get that together), and mostly out of opportunity (a half-price Groupon offer showed up in my inbox.)

I thought she would probably enjoy it, but I didn’t think I would. It meant getting her to practice every Monday night, and games on Saturday mornings, and buying new equipment (and keeping track of it), and getting used to new schedules and people and procedures. I was wary of another evening commitment, and dreaded tying up our Saturday mornings – our only at-home family time. Also, there was this: I’m pretty awful at not being in charge of things. Most of the activities we do are related somehow to the church, and I generally know everybody involved and have made a lot of the decisions about how things get done. To be just another parent on the sidelines is a weird place for me to be.

So these eight weeks of practices and games and looking for the shin guards have probably been as good for me as they have been for her. And I have to say, I’m a convert. It’s been, well, fun. There’s something wonderful about 5-year-old soccer. Nobody keeps score. The teams are small so everybody gets to play a lot. There’s no ref – just the coaches, who nudge the ball back onto the field if it goes too far out of bounds. Everybody cheers when somebody makes a goal, regardless of whose team it is. I’ve heard the horror stories, of bad-tempered coaches and mean-spirited parents, but for us, it’s just been fun.

cover imageOne night recently, we were in the kitchen laughing, all four of us, in a few found minutes before the next thing happened – before I had to leave for a meeting, before bathtime needed to begin – and for once I was ignoring the pile of dishes in the sink and the mess on the living room floor. I don’t know what silliness we were laughing about but it doesn’t matter; I could see that Harper was watching us. She was laughing, participating in the silliness, but also she was watching. And all of a sudden I could see that she is hungry for this, this all-out fun we are having. This sort of moment is rare enough that she noticed, and soaked it up. More than any meal, this whole-family laughter feeds her, fills her up.

I forget that sometimes, I’m afraid. I forget that she needs us to have fun together, to know that we are happy.

I’m firmly in the I-won’t-martyr-myself-for-my-children camp. I like doing grown-up things. Reading books with more depth than the Berenstain Bears. Walking across the kitchen without stepping on smashed up raisins. Watching West Wing reruns after the kids go to bed. I like the work I do beyond my family, and often, I wish I had more time to do it. And sometimes – oh, I love my children dearly, but sometimes – the kid stuff, packing lunches and signing up for soccer and cleaning up the puzzle pieces for the eight-hundredth time, start to seem like chores that get in the way of what I’d rather be doing.

But my kids are not tasks we have to take care of, not items on the to-do list to be checked off.

My daughter needs those tangible things, certainly: food, shelter, clothes and shoes that fit. She needs me to sign the permission form so she can go on the field trip, and she needs me to remember to make her an appointment at the dentist. But she needs more than that. It’s her family, too. She lives here. It’s her life, and she needs me to help her live it. She needs me to listen to her stories. She needs me to ignore the dishes so I can play with her. She needs me to laugh, and mean it. She needs me to have fun, with her. She needs me to sign her up for experiences she’s never had and stand on the sidelines with the other parents and cheer my heart out, for her.

Turns out that sometimes, that’s what I need, too.


bromleigh-and-leeLee Hull Moses (right in photo) is the co-author, with Bromleigh McCleneghan, of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People. She is also the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband Rob and their children, Jonathan and Harper. She will be spending this Saturday morning cheering at the final soccer game of the season.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment, sharing your thoughts on this post and/or a similar sense of joy in the midst of the busyness of life. We'll choose a winner Monday morning. Limit one comment per person per day.

Soccer ball photo credit: Great Beyond via Photopin

Friday Link Love

And they're off! ~

Blind Runner's Despair Turns to Joy at Paralympics -- NBC

After suffering a devastating loss in the 400M, Brazilian runner Terezinha Guilhermina and her guide Guilherme Soares de Santana win the Women's 100m at the Paralympics. Great photos there including this one:

So much to love about this. The guide had fallen in the 400 which cost them the victory, and you can see the joy here! Also love that this year, guides are also receiving medals.


Gym-Pact -- RunKeeper

I have joked about there needing to be a system that penalizes you financially for not keeping your fitness goals, and here it is, from the good people at RunKeeper!

Earn real money for making your workouts — paid for by those who missed theirs! With cash on the line, you'll find it easier than ever to get to the gym and see real results.

Somebody try it and let me know how it goes. Although, so far I have been able to keep myself motivated because of...


The Benefits of Middle Age Fitness -- New York Times

What [researchers] found was that those adults who had been the least fit at the time of their middle-age checkup also were the most likely to have developed any of eight serious or chronic conditions early in the aging process. These include heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer.

The adults who’d been the most fit in their 40s and 50s often developed many of the same conditions, but notably their maladies appeared significantly later in life than for the less fit. Typically, the most aerobically fit people lived with chronic illnesses in the final five years of their lives, instead of the final 10, 15 or even 20 years.

There's some insightful discussion in the comments about whether the study says what it claims to say. An example:

What if those middle-fit people had been fit their whole lives and it was their youthful fitness that gave them the real benefit?

I'm going to keep being fit, just in case the article is right, and because nobody has invented a time machine yet. And also because I feel much, much better in every measurable way.


The Invisible Bicycle Helmet -- Vimeo

Got this video about these two inventors from Brene Brown, who said, "I love these women's daring!" Yes indeed. [vimeo 43038579 w=500 h=281]

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.


The Pleasure Of... -- Vimeo

Already shared this early in the week but it bears repeating. It will make you feel good. What pleasures would you add?

[vimeo 48236494 w=500 h=281]

The pleasure of from Vitùc on Vimeo.


On Christian Platitudes -- Captain Sacrament

During the FB discussion about "God has a plan" (which helped inform this) a friend shared this blog post. I appreciate this critique from someone within the church:

It may not be immediately obvious, but when people offer these phases, these stock answers, it sends a clear and demoralizing message: "I don't take your struggles seriously, and I'm not prepared to muster the theological depth to share them with you."

This might be a harsh assessment, but this is a great problem, and worthy of such consideration. If you use these Christian platitudes, these unholy clichés in your care for your brothers and sisters, I urge you to carefully consider dropping them. If you find your friends using them on you, forgive them, then challenge them. Muster some courage and tell them you find those words to be theologically empty and pastorally cold. It's the only way we're going to grow and learn to struggle together.

I think there can be another, more benign message in these platitudes: I love you so much, and am so hurt that you are hurting, that I will seek to reduce the hurt any way I can. It's just that platitudes aren't effective in reducing the hurt and in fact can make things worse.


A Chronological New Testament -- Marcus Borg

Not really new stuff here, but it's good to be reminded (and help people who didn't go to seminary to understand) that the New Testament we have is organized by genre rather than chronologically. And Paul's letters were written earliest, before the gospels.

Seeing and reading the New Testament in chronological sequence matters for historical reasons. It illuminates Christian origins. Much becomes apparent:

  • Beginning with seven of Paul's letters illustrates that there were vibrant Christian communities spread throughout the Roman Empire before there were written Gospels. His letters provide a "window" into the life of very early Christian communities.
  • Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel -- the good news -- of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus' historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.

More at the link.


Prayer for the Nation -- Jena Nardella

The benediction from night 1 of the Democratic National Convention. This has been shared widely but it's here in case you missed it. Excerpt:

Give us, oh Lord, humility to listen to our sisters and brothers across the political spectrum, because your kingdom is not divided into Red States and Blue States. Equip us with moral imagination to have real discourse. Knit us, oh God, as one country even as we wrestle over the complexity of how we ought to live and govern. Give us gratitude for our right to dissent and disagree. For we know that we are bound up in one another and have been given the tremendous opportunity to extend humanity and grace when others voice their deeply held convictions even when they differ from our own.


And my last link is especially for you church folk...

A Growing Church is a Dying Church -- Street Pastor

So much to love here.

Whenever a congregation goes looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our church?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now: No, she will not.

No amount of pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take your congregation back to back to its glory days.

Read the whole thing.


Can We Redeem "Everyone Gets a Trophy"?

You may have noticed, as I have, that "everyone gets a trophy" has become a shorthand phrase to describe the uber-entitled, narcissistic, everyone-is-a-special-snowflake world in which many of us are, apparently, raising kids. I've played devil's advocate with the narcissism thing before. I don't want to suggest that there isn't truth to this phenomenon. But as you know from reading this blog, I like exploring the nuances of stuff. What can I say, bumper stickers and catch phrases make me suspicious.

This particular issue hits home for me, because on my daughter's swim team, everyone who participates does indeed get an award. But there are other awards given out too. Big ones. Trophies for achievement: for being one of the top two swimmers in a specific age group. There is also a "coach's trophy"; it's a subjective award, given to the kid with the most hustle, the most heart. It is abundantly clear that there are differences between the participation awards and the achievement ones.

The latest research strongly suggests that generic, blanket praise is not effective for children. In fact, praising them for being "smart" or "good at art" can actually inhibit performance because it makes them less willing to take risks or do things that don't come easy. For feedback to be effective, for it to really motivate kids, it needs to be specific, and it needs to acknowledge effort. "I noticed you did these math problems without counting on your fingers---that's a first!" "You really kicked hard across the pool this time!" (It also needs to be true. Kids are great crap detectors.)

So the question is, which category does a participation trophy fall into? Is it an empty, generic expression of praise (not helpful), or is it a tangible acknowledgement of effort (helpful)? I think it's the latter, or can be if the coaches and parents frame it that way. It's simply another way of affirming commitment, which the research suggests is important feedback for the development of children. (By the way, report cards around here give grades for achievement and for effort. Useful information to have as a parent.)

Whatever the motivation for teams giving them out, perhaps we parents who care about these things can frame participation trophies in the latter way: as an acknowledgement of hard work, dedication, teamwork, and the decidedly mundane practice of showing up and trying your best. You know... those unsexy things that life is all about.

Call my kid entitled if you want, but Caroline is pretty proud of her swim award. It means something to her. When she gets home from school, she'd much rather relax and play for a while, but instead, she sits down and does her homework so she can make it to practice. Once school is out, she will get up and out of the house early each morning, something she is, shall we say, loath to do. She will stand around during those interminable meets for the chance to swim her one or two heats, and she will cheer for her teammates, including the ones who win blue ribbons every time. She will accept each participation ribbon for her heat and she will string them all together and display them on her dresser. She will do everything the coach asks her to do. She will rarely complain.

She will get stronger. And a little bit faster. And while she may yet surprise me, she is unlikely ever to break into the top group of swimmers. She will never get that top trophy. But she is earning her little trophy, my friends.

I agree with my friend Jan who says that we need people around us who will help us discern our gifts and those areas in which we are not particularly gifted. "We need to see ourselves as a balance of strengths and weaknesses," she writes. I agree. It seems like that's part of our job as parents, isn't it? It's also about discernment. "Good job" doesn't tell a kid anything. "You've been working on the butterfly for three solid weeks and you finally got it!" does.

So I try to describe reality as best I can. Sometimes that's wildly affirming: Caroline is ridiculously musical. She takes it upon herself to pick out complex melodies on the piano, singing along and adding her own chords. (Her latest is "Castle on a Cloud.") God has given her a gift in this area. And I tell her that. And when you have a gift, you work at it and play at it and seek the joy in it.

And in the case of swimming, her love for and dedication to the sport are her greatest assets. And I help her set good goals. Trying to beat the other kids is not a good goal. Trying to beat her own time, and trying to get across the pool in fewer breaths, are good goals.

And when she gets that trophy this year, it will mean something again.