Thursday, September 29, 2016

A lesson for me in sports....

As a kid growing up, I didn't do sports. My parents more ran with the philosophy of play outside and come in for dinner or come in by dark. As I got older my parents got my sister and I into music but never sports. I joked around with my mom because she signed me up for a trial of gymnastics and apparently I loved it and the coach told my mom I had "natural talent" and should be moved up to a more rigorous class more days a week and that was the end of my gymnastics career. My parents valued good grades and kindness but not sports. So naturally, that was my bent as well. Fast forward to college, I marry the punter of the Auburn football team right after graduation. John loves all sports and everything about sports. He loves the game and the challenge, he loves the underdog stories, after all he was one. To say we were coming into parenting with different background and values on child sports was an understatement. However when I found my 18 month old repeatedly in the bathroom and kitchen sink and when her greatest joy was leaping herself out of the crib, I jokingly suggested this monkey needed to be in a sport with padded floors. So we landed in gymnastics at age 2. By the time she was four the coach saw in her that "natural talent" and suggested she move to the two days a week two hour class. I scoffed as I told John, can you believe this? A four year old going to gymnastics 4 hours a week? He challenged me, she comes alive when she does gymnastics, it builds her confidence and strength and discipline, why not? The conversation actually didn't go that easily, but I conceded and she jumped up. A few months later it was an extra day at 2 hours practice, a year later she started pre-team and jumped to 9 hours of practice a week. When Reese wasn't at practice she was flipping, cart-wheeling, and "conditioning" to build her muscles to get better. None of it was driven by us, she had a fire in her heart to get better and be the best she could at this sport she loved.

She started competing and loved it. We were driving 1-3 hours for her meets, then her practices jumped to 12 hours a week. I struggled with the decision. Honestly, I feel like the church at large downplays sports as something that takes kids away from church and family time and I felt the tension of the time she was spending at the gym. I didn't want to let my kid drive our schedule but at the same time I wanted to support her dream and love for a sport that we didn't have to do anything to foster in her. It was a continual discussion in our marriage, always coming to it from two different perspectives of what value sports held in our family. We then had to make a tough decision to leave the gym we were at that was 5 minutes from home because the competitive program ended at the age she was. The gym at that time we saw the most potential in was 40 minutes from home one way. And at the age she was her practices were now 15 hours a week in 3rd grade. Reese begged to keep going and wanted to make it work. John supported her and I was left torn thinking of driving 3 days a week down and back to drop her off and down and back 5 hours later to pick her up.We moved forward and Reese flourished. She loved the challenge of the new gym, the harder workouts, the way the coaches pushed her toward excellence. During that time, I saw something growing in her that started to change my heart on the value of sports in her life.
I saw her not getting new skills and cheering on others who were. I saw Reese come home from gym and work a skill repetitively, determined to get it. I saw her learning time management as she did her homework on the drive from school to gym and do her required reading time while she ate dinner on the way home from practice before crashing into bed. I saw her come home from practice with bloody hands or sore legs or bruised hips and saying she couldn't wait to work even harder the next practice. I saw her on vacation bringing with her a list of workouts she could do to stay in great condition while away from the gym. I saw her get bad scores at meets, tear up, and let it push her to try harder the next time. I saw her pray and ask God for help. I saw her rally around her team mates when they struggled both in or out of the gym. I saw her pray for or with other team mates who's parents were sick or splitting up. This sport which I didn't see very much value in was helping transform her in the very values we were trying to teach at home: generosity, hard work, responsibility, kindness, perseverance, and prayer. It was her breeding ground for working those things out and she did it beautifully. She has had to make hard decisions, give up some things "normal kids" can do because of her schedule, she has had to listen to criticism and take what of it she needed to get better and leave the rest alone, she has wrestled with what it feels like to work the hardest and not be the best, she has had to weigh tough choices and push her body through pain. God has started to show me he can work through non traditional ways to mold his children into who he is making them to be. It all doesn't have to be under my roof or in my "control". He has got Reese and he is using the gifts he has given her to develop her into an amazing young woman. 
I talk with Reese often about identity, I tell her, you're identity is not gymnastics, you are a child of God and one of your gifts is gymnastics. You can use that to bring God glory or yourself glory and it will sometimes be a daily decision. I told her the other day, you don't have to do gymnastics to earn acceptance, you do gymnastics from a place of acceptance, knowing God accepts and loves you for who you are not what you do, then you are freed up to live out your gifting and passions as he leads you instead of doing what you're great at to get attention and approval from others. Scores don't matter to me, scholarships don't matter to me, the heart matters. 
I am so proud to see Reese blossoming into a beautiful 10 year old. She is strong and kind and brave, she can do hard things, she knows God is with her and for her, and she knows what it feels like to be living out your passion. I pray I can continue to support her as her cheerleader and mom and keep pointing her to Jesus as she practices living out her passions before Him in this stage of life as he prepares her for the next. God has a beautiful routine planned out for her life, she has tuned her ears in to listen to her Coach and obey each command, whether she falls or does it beautifully she keeps on going: through suffering or pain or difficulty she gets back up and does it again. Jesus is teaching both of us what this adventure of following him can be like.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A letter to Maran Grace on year 8

Maran Grace
September marks several things in our journey together. This year especially. September is the month we submitted our application for adoption in 2010.  September is the month we met your for the first time in 2012. September this year you turn 8. This September marks you being in our family for four years. For the first time you have lived longer with us than without us. Such a milestone of joy and sadness. I looked at your profile the other day and saw such beauty, so much of your African roots. I thought of all you had come from and through. The first months you were home I saw you mostly through the lens of what you had been through. As months turned into years I stopped seeing you as 'once orphan' and only saw you as 'daughter'. That identity change is something I am still learning today as an adult. Sometimes I only see myself as "failure", "mess up", or "sinner". Although those can be my behavior sometimes, they are NOT my identity. Not in Christ, I am none of those. Hidden in him, he calls me daughter, he calls me holy, he calls me heir, he calls me purposed, he calls me able, he calls me beautiful, he calls me treasured. I feel as if this will be your struggle too. Letting go of what labels you put on yourself, or what the world puts on you, and claiming who Jesus is calling you. Anchor yourself in that identity. Everything else damages, shames and disappoints.
Here is what I see you becoming. Your servant heart is going to be what God uses to show his love to others. You know hard work and it doesn't scare you. Your unexplainable joy will be what draws others to you. God has taken your history, one of little material surroundings, a history that knew hunger closely, and he has made it into beautiful joy and gratitude for what you have. You see the world in a way I never have. A blade of grass, a butterfly, a simple gift or a kind word is like a treasure you open. I can hardly understand your excitement but yet it convicts me that I am far too entitled to the small things in life like a beautiful sunset or white puffy clouds. You see each of these as an exciting gift that you are anxious to experience. 
Your compassionate heart was probably developed out of pain. You took care of your brother like no little girl should have to, but God has taken what was painful and he has made it beautiful in your heart.  He has turned into tender empathy that will serve you and your relationships well. You know how to put yourself into others shoes and feel what they feel. That is a gift I cannot teach and I am so thankful God has developed that in you.
You are generous. You love to share and make others smile. You love to be close, to be touched and hugged. 
These are all gifts I try to remind myself to not take for granted. Your first 4 years were totally out of my control, and I see in that God doesn't need me after all. He is making you into the girl he planned for you to be, and he has been all along. He holds you together.
Each birthday I am starkly reminded I celebrate for two moms. Your birth mom is never far from my thoughts. The first day of 2nd grade, watching you conquer a hill on a  skateboard, another lost baby tooth and that beautiful smile, listening to you read. These are all gifts I get to see in you that she doesn't. So I celebrate for the both of us. I know how proud of you she would be to see all you are becoming. Her and I are not at odds, you can love us both freely, I know she would just love cheering you on. So it is a weighty responsibility and privilege to hold that for the both of us. I am sure your beautiful smile, your smooth dark skin, wide eyes, and joyful spirit probably comes from her. I am thankful I get to know her in a small part through you, your features, your personality. She set you on a path that now I get to walk alongside and I am honored and humbled.
Your name means 'The Lord Comes'. It is the last word spoken in the Bible. It is a reminder that he comes close, and that he is coming back for his children. He doesn't leave us orphaned, he comes to us as a loving father and draws us near. The Lord is close to the broken hearted, he is close to us when we are crushed, he is sharing with us in our joys, he weeps with us when we cry out. The Lord comes close to you. He is your closest friend, he is a Father who will not abandon you or let you down. Your middle name reminds you of the grace he has given, at the cross and every day there after. He gives us more than we deserve, and we can't earn that. You can't behave your way to getting more of his love. He has poured it all out lavishly. Your great grandmother Grace was such an example of this selfless loving without expectation of return or reward. 
I pray this year you grow and learn so much. I pray you keep working out all of the things God is working inside of you and teaching you. I pray he reveals more of who He is to you this year, I pray your desire grows to know the One who created you. I pray God gives me the grace, patience and wisdom to keep being a placeholder for Him, messy as I am, pointing you back to him. I apologize for my shortcomings. I pray we continue to grow our relationship into a beautiful relationship. 
Maran, you are loved. Ephesians 1 calls you chosen, adopted, loved lavishly. Remember who you are, where you came from, and where God is calling you to. 
You are a treasured daughter. Happy 8th birthday sweet girl.