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High School

I met a woman at church on Sunday. A mother of three; girl, boy, girl, just like mine. Her youngest is seventeen years old and is attending college in another province.

We chatted about our kids and she talked about the difficulty in transitioning out of the active mothering years. How much she misses all her kids at home.

The noise, the fights for the bathroom, banging on doors.

It wasn't one of those "you just wait and see" type talks, it was just heartfelt. Mother to mother.

In five years my own baby will be seventeen. Five years.

I am at the beginning of the end of child raising. Almost at the end with Celine. How can this be?

Damien and I are watching our children grow into their own with anticipation, curiosity, and wonder. We are making plans, making changes to adjust to who they are, what they want, and what they need.

Even though they share a childhood, the same home, parents and family memories, they are their own people, as it should be, and are each going their own way.

But sometimes life, and the different interests we all have, slows down to the measure of a steady heartbeat. An hour in late afternoon, when I'm on supper and all three sit, together, drawing and painting at the table.

My heart lives here.

In these children. Around this table.

My joy. My love. They still live here. And I can't imagine my life without their daily presence, though I know it will come.

So I abide messy rooms without the angst I thought I'd feel when letting that go. I am a tidy person who abhors clutter. But I was a fifteen year old girl once and my room looked much the same.

I accept video games and Netflix, movies with "language" and more violence than I can handle. I don't have to watch them, those are interests they share with their Dad, not me.

There isn't really a lot I've had to learn to live with, yet. They get along. They're kind to each other. The youngest two are best buddies. They respect me and their Dad. We laugh, at each other, at ourselves.

I have it pretty good, as far as the early teen years go.

There are no boyfriends or girlfriends. There isn't texting or even Facebook. (There's nothing righteous in this, it's just our reality.) There is no rush to get a driver's permit. That's all coming. I know. But right now there is this.

It's been a slow childhood and a gradual transition to the responsibilities and privileges of young adulthood.

I can't take complete credit for the amazingness that is my children, but these children have been my life's work. Being with them. Guiding them. Loving them. Protecting them. Educating them. They are my investment in the future.

When I came home from our hike all battered and bruised inside, questioning my worth, I looked at these children as a remembrance of what I have accomplished and what I value.

I am not in that dark place anymore but I still marvel at them each day. Their radiance, their skills, their gifts, their heart. And when I'm feeling low, or insecure about my place in the world of work I remind myself, "you're doing this amazing work called raising three children, and look at the beauty you have to show for it, look at the relationships."

These three, my heartbeat, minister to me in my difficult moments, by virtue of their very being. Beings that I have had a significant role in creating.

They are their own people. I honor that and respect that. But they are my creation also. My finest work. And they are still here. And I don't want to take that for granted, not even for a moment.

I am so proud of my kids.

I know there are all kinds of parental warnings these days against too much verbal affirmation, or the wrong type of verbal affirmation. We're not supposed to tell our kids they are smart, gifted, or inherently talented. We should praise them for their efforts, for working hard, not simply for being.

I missed the memo. I have been praising my kiddos for years for both outward and inward traits. I think it will turn out ok in the end because the main point of all that affirmation is to communicate my unconditional love for them, and to make sure they know, in their heart of hearts, that they are wonderfully and uniquely created by God - talented, gifted, and intelligent.

I know I'm completely biased but my kids are amazing.

In becoming Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, through their own blood, sweat and tears they have accomplished something that very few adults have enough fortitude to do, never mind children.

As thru-hiker kids they are at the top of an elite class. And yes, I am dang proud of them for their incredibly hard work to achieve that. Something I told them often on the trail, minus the dang part (the kids reprimand me when I swear).

Family thru-hiking was a difficult endeavor and in those moments (and months) of self-doubt about why we had taken on something so monumental I sought a sliver of reasoning to hold on to, something to justify why we'd willingly putting ourselves through these trials, and conscript our kids to come along. (What kind of parents are we??)

The words of encouragement that came most readily to me were ancient and true. They were the Apostle Paul's perspective about trials, perseverance, and character.

But I was mixed up because, without a Bible handy for reference, I kept thinking that character was the highest aim. That we struggled through sufferings, to produce endurance in our lives which in the end, develops character. End of story.

Not so. When I finally took the time to check the verse I was a bit surprised and puzzled that character was not the end goal or "prize" when we suffer tribulations, hope is.

As Christian homeschooling parents, good character is high on the list of our child-raising goals. (I'm not saying non-Christians don't have this same value but Christians tend to place a high value, rightly or wrongly, on character.) Throw in my innate tendencies as a rule abiding, authority respecting ESTJ, and you can see how raising kids with responsible, solid character is something I naturally uphold as a good goal. And so I think I took the bit I knew - trials produce perseverance produce character - and stopped there because for me, often, character is the highest aim.

So when I read the verse again, and wrote it this time in my trial trail journal to ponder further, I was challenged by Paul's idea that hope is the highest aim.

I spent the rest of our hike asking myself the question, "why is hope the highest end, not character?"

I perceive hope as risky, sometimes a bit naive, and almost always too trusting. There are no guarantees.

Character on the other hand is more solid. It's a firm foundation, it's stalwart and steady.

As I wrestled with this I remembered discussions Damien and I have had about our parenting goals for this season of family life. We want our teenagers to be invigorated by hope, ideas, and inspiration for their future. We want them to experiment with creative ideas to solve problems, to take chances and not be afraid.

Yes, we want them to develop good character. We've been working on that since they were toddlers. But maybe that's not the end aim and is only the foundation for the real goal, having the courage and inspiration - the hope - to move forward with living, loving, and learning.

You need both.

If hope is the audacious belief you can fly, then character is the firm footing from which you jump.

Last weekend I picked up and resumed reading Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly. I had started it before our hike but just couldn't get into it with all our efforts and preparations. It's a timely read to get back into. Funny how it was the book most accessible and handy to reach in our many boxes of "life" stored in the basement.

I started near the beginning, where I had left off, but right before closing the book for the night I flipped to the end, to the chapter on Wholehearted Parenting. And this sentence in bold jumped off the page for me.

Hope is a function of struggle.

A new take on ancient wisdom, wouldn't you say?

Brené goes on to say a few things about hope.

If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.

hope isn't an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process... [it's] a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.

Children with high levels of hopefulness have experience with adversity. They've been given the opportunity to struggle and in doing that they learn how to believe in themselves.

Our kids came off the trail full of ideas for their future. Hope. Their enthusiasm built on experience and personal knowledge (in their aching muscles) that they have what it takes to accomplish dreams, goals, and vision. Character.

I am proud of my children for their accomplishment. (I am proud of my husband, beyond words, for holding the whole show together.) I am proud of myself for following through on my commitment to our hike even though I felt broken and weak. It didn't actually break any of us. Instead, all that hard work grew our character.

I am extremely gratified at the character traits I see in my children. Determination, tenacity, long suffering, responsibility, sacrifice, kindness.

Equally though and perhaps more importantly, I am thrilled that hope is the fruit of that character growth. That from the foundation of character springs hope and inspiration for their future, hope and inspiration for my future.

Hope. Not a fuzzy, feel-good emotion, or wishful thinking, but a faith rooted in the soil of adversity and perseverance through trials. The confidence that you have what it takes to move forward with your dreams and goals.

That is something to feel good about.

We don't ask our kids "what do you want to be when you grow up?" We don't ask them questions that we ourselves can't answer.

We ask them what are you inspired to do today?

Actually, for the most part we don't have to ask, it's obvious. And then we bring in resources and tools to help them build skills and knowledge around those inspirations and interests

We ask, how can you help other people with those skills? Where is this knowledge, this expertise needed in society?

We can't know what the jobs of the future will look like. People's basic needs stay the same but society is constantly evolving and changing and so we don't fixate on a job title or career path; we focus on building skills, knowledge, and experience in an environment of flexibility and adaptability. 

As our kids get into their late middle school and high school years we talk about ways of meeting needs and earning money using those skills, knowledge, and experience. 

We don't just talk about it, we actually find ways for them to earn money while gaining the skills and knowledge. Because they've have lots of time to practice (and play) they are actually pretty good at some of the things they enjoy doing. Good enough to sell the stuff they make and to get paid for their services. 

We talk about different post-secondary schooling options that support the acquisition of these skills and knowledge. Right now our high schooler has no post-secondary plans percolating.

At fourteen, she already has income earning skills and knowledge. She can support her teenage financial needs by doing programming-related technical projects as well as design and graphic work for us. She's been learning these skills for years now and shows a strong interest and aptitude for both. If she decides to pursue either in post-secondary studies she's well on her way. Or she may become an academic who studies medieval Japan. Who's to say?

She studies subjects that interest her and learns skills doing real work. Real projects. Real life learning. 

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