• Kristen Cole

What’s in Your Brown Bag?

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So, school started this past week. Shuffle time, indeed. And, not only did school start for my boys, but I also started a new (added to my current 50%) position at the school of nursing as clinical faculty.

Thursday was the first full day for my boys at school. I got up, ran my four miles…because it’s good to train for a half marathon in one of the busiest seasons of life? I sat at the table staring at my computer…the kids all just having raced out the door…did I kiss them enough? Did I make sure the ice pack was in their carefully nutritiously portioned out lunches? Did I check their brown bags for that assignment about filing it with three things that represented them? Did I fill out all of the necessary paperwork? Am I a good mom? Am I engaged enough with my kids? Why didn’t I drive them to school this morning?

I went back to staring at my computer. I knew I was missing my boss’s presentation for Grand Rounds, so the guilt with which I entered into that smorgasbord of tasks really was debilitating to me. I felt bad about myself, conflicted about whether to please my boss or take care of myself…but I decided that I couldn’t make it work…that is, unless I showed up in my sweaty running clothes, which…I just didn’t think appropriate.

I poured another cup of joe and sat starting at my computer for a couple more minutes. Then I dove in. Charting from the day before when I left work “early” at 6 not yet finished with my notes, answering emails – both from work and from the school of nursing, answering staff messages, calling patients’ parents, delegating what I could to my support staff, ordering prescriptions, evaluating clinical objectives, throwing a load of laundry in the wash, emailing our new sitter to make sure she knows about pick up for the boys and expectations, and then…I went to check on my neighbors’ fish we were sitting for – just to take a break and feed it while I got another cup of coffee.

It was dead.

FOR REALZ?!!! Now, understand that this fish was almost 3 years, which is quite a lifetime for a beta. Also, my neighbor did clean his tank right before bringing him over which can put the fish in a state of shock, but, I mean, really? The worst part is that we kept our other neighbors’ fish about a month ago and not 24 hours after arriving back home, that fish jumped out of its tank (through the small window used to feed the fish!!!) to its death…So, basically, DO NOT give us your fish to babysit.

I figured this was a conversation best had over the old-fashioned talking on the phone with my real voice, not texting…so I sent the vague text, you know, “Um…when you have a chance, can you give me a call?”

While waiting for that dreaded return call…I raced to two appointments, then back home to quick make dinner before I had to collect my boys at the bus stop. De-thawing, dredging, flipping those flanks, just in time to through them in the crock pot with some soup and water thrown on top…I raced out the door.

On my way, I received a phone call. Apparently, the bus arrived 10 minutes earlier than scheduled and another mom was gracious enough to gather my boys so I would not be sent all the way to their school (30 minutes away) to pick them up for my tardiness…that wasn’t really tardiness. Nice. Another cool mom moment for my beat me up day.

Then, my oldest child, when I arrived, almost squealing the tires of my mom van on the way in, said, “It’s about time, mom.”

Apparently, the mini-van mom words were not impactful enough on his little pre-teen ‘tude to get with the program for homework. Of course I provided the after school snack (with protein) and explained the plan for the afternoon. The pre-teen ‘tuder sat down at the computer…and the i-don’t-want-to-do-school-again-in-the-worst-way-and-it-is-ALL-your-fault look on his face and tone in his voice tested every atom of patience in my being. And I felt bad about myself as a mom, again.

Then my phone rang. Yep, the neighbor. The fish neighbor. The DEAD fish neighbor.

I let it go to voicemail as I gathered my wits and calmly assisted my child with his homework. Once I thought the coast was clear, I made the dreaded call. Somehow, this neighbor knew the reason I was calling. That sweet neighbor reassured me, laughed with me and brought a levity to my day that I really needed, especially when he told me if would be fine to commit the fish’s body to the Durham County sewer…

In a pretty typical day as a mom who works part-time outside the home (well…ok, this one was a little bit more crazy…) I had the opportunity to recall how shame/guilt play a big part in my thought life.

I thought about that brown bag project of my boys. The instructions were to include three items, all that could fit inside the brown paper bag, that would best describe who they each were as a person. They would then stand in front of their peers and show the objects and explain why those three objects best described them. Both boys picked some obvious objects – baseball, toe token (a foot figurine given to the kids per number of miles they walk/run in the school’s walking program), a Pokemon card or figure…and one picked a pencil…which was a surprise as he told me he liked to write…insert mama’s heart melting right here. Then the subject came up about whether or not to include the cross.

Whether or not to include the cross…

Wow. Did not see this coming. And boy was God alive in my home in the conversation that followed. My eldest said, “But, I might be embarrassed…it might be hard. I don’t know if my friends believe in God or not. What if they make fun of me? It’s kinda like praying at lunch.” Great questions. Great opportunity to set aside my own brown bag heart issues that I had been wrestling with all day long. Great opportunity to be present with my kids and have the hard conversations that I have the blessing of being able to have…in my home, doors closed, just me and my kids, no bright neon lights or pats on the back for going that extra mile to be at the boss’s presentation that morning…yep, that right hand work again.

For me, it was a moment when I felt assured in Stan and I’s choice in our kids’ education. This is such a hard hard topic for parents, especially in this time, when there are only a million and three options for the type of school your child will attend…private, public, Christian, Montessori, Charter, Magnet…and the list…it just goes on. And unfortunately, parents assert their opinions on your kids…often. And you have to trust yourself and your assessment of your kids and what God is leading you to do with your kids, who are unique, as is your family.

I very much felt at peace, having this hard discussion with my boys about being bold for God in a public school. We talked about leadership. We talked about influence. We talked about fears and about being bold and how it’s even hard for adults! We talked about God’s opinion versus the opinions of people, who are all imperfect. We talked about words…those that hurt and those that encourage…and how we can choose which words we use in order to either make others feel good about themselves or bad.

And I thought back to that shame/guilt thing I had been wrestling with earlier in the day. I thought about how very much I wanted my kids to be able to live into who they are…and not feel shamed by others or by ME. I thought about my own brown bag – what would be in it? Physical items would be easy for me. The deeper question for me involves the brown bag heart items. What would those be for me? And what about my kids? And just how much influence do I have on what ends up in that bag for them?

And I remember the parable of the prodigal son…how the Father welcomed the younger son home, never mind the squandering of his money, the disrespect, the disobedience…the layers of hurt and disappointment this son was in the eyes of all observers. But the father, he lifted up his robe and ran to meet his son, shouting hallelujahs at his return, his repentance, his very presence. He hugged him in the way that only a daddy can, embracing the child he was and the child within…totally uninhibited beautiful and unconditional…

Not only did this father love his last born this much…he also lavished this same love on his firstborn. A different type of disappointment, this son threw his jealousy, his anger, his resentment at the injustice of his father’s unrelenting love towards his wayward sibling…in his father’s face. This father reached out his arms in love, left the younger brother’s party to follow this son, understanding his plight and loving him where he was (my interpretation) and explained in the way the oldest rule following child could understand… Luke 15:11-32.

He met both sons where they were and spoke to them in a way that they each could understand. So very different, these two sons, but they both received the same message of love that day. They received it from a father who had studied their very uniqueness in a way only a parent could. He knew the heart of each son…and he knew the words they each needed to hear and the way to say those words.

Carrying around my own brown bag heart issues…I realize the importance of my actions and words towards my children and their impressionable hearts. All three different, all three unique in God’s eyes, they all have areas of weakness and strength. Some of those weaknesses and strengths can both negatively and positively impact their life paths and also the paths of their siblings.

I strive to be like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Granted, I realize that the parable is referencing our Heavenly Father and I am NOT him, nor can I even pretend to be…but, I am a parent and I can consider the feelings of both of the sons as Stan and I know our children better than anyone else, except God.

Acceptance of our children…where they are, is so important, but let’s be real. It’s hard. I know I struggle with some of the characteristics of my children that drive me insane…and I don’t always think about that brown bag and the heart issues I may be stirring up in there. I lose it. I raise my voice. I say things I shouldn’t say. But, I want to do better. I want to be intentional, I want to fill up those three little brown bags with acceptance, love and faith. I want them to be secure in who they are. I want them to trust that God made them, He loves them and has a perfect plan for each of their lives…that does not involve shame or guilt.

And, I am hopeful, that one year, all three of my kids will put a physical cross in their bag and boldly share it…while the brown bags of their hearts are filled with love, faith and acceptance.

#school #love #shame #brownbag #prodigalson #boys

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