Sunday, December 11, 2011

Focusing on the Donut, Not the Hole

When we were in California, we attended a church service where the kids sermon was simple and effective.  The children's ministry leader taught a lesson about living with a heart that is focused towards thinking about abundance rather than lack.  Normally, I tend to think that is a place I live in more often than not, but the illustration was so perfect and I have found the image they used coming back to me over and over again lately.  She held up a donut and shared a little saying:  "As you go through life, make this your goal:  Keep your eye on the donut and not the hole!"

Sometimes that can be easier said than done.  One reason I have such a deep appreciation for being part of a vibrant faith community is that it helps me keep focused on the donut.  Prior to joining our congregation, I was very "hole" oriented.  I saw what was missing, I obsessed over it at times, and I was never content.  It can be quite easy to see only the holes in our lives, the lack of all the things we think we need, or the relationships we wish we had.  Our culture tells us over and over again that what we have will simply never be enough...we will never be beautiful enough, our holidays will never be cheerful enough, our love lives will never be romantic enough, and our "stuff" will never be expensive enough.  We are bombarded with messages countless times a day that remind us of the "hole".

I am really ashamed to admit that I have fallen prey to that lately, and I need to re-focus and find my donut.

As I have often said, I am not Pollyanna.  I am not perpetually and unrealistically positive, but I do think I am usually balanced and lean towards "donut" gratitude rather than "hole" thanklessness.  As I find myself slipping into old ways of thinking, God has used others this past week to nudge me out of sitting smack dab in the middle of the "hole".

I had a joking conversation today after church, and it was about the kids.  Our church tends to attract people with amazing gifts...talented, creative, well educated folks who have talented, creative, well educated kids.  I am not exaggerating, as three of the 7 kids in our tiny youth group I led a couple years back were 4.0 students with one a Valedictorian...and yet another on track with 4.0.  Yes, you read that right...3 out of 7 were 4.0 students.  Amazing within graduating classes of 200+ students.  As I look at Josh's best buddy who goes to our church, he is incredibly gifted...highly verbal and imaginative, writing his own plays that are acted out in class, a gifted reader and a younger sister who at 3 is obviously incredibly bright and going to be reading before she even starts school.  Can you tell I am a bit proud of our dear little friends??? :-)  There is another little guy who attends church who is the most natural athlete you'll ever see at his young age, his grandma who is someone I greatly admire shares his exploits on the soccer field and I can picture him in my mind, for I have seen his talent and this is no mere typical bragging...this kid totally rocks when doing anything athletically oriented.

Then, there are the LaJoy kids.  We were sharing about how hard they try with music, but that it just isn't natural for them.  Then we were talking about other things that kids participate in, and somehow I just felt so "hole", they are not athletic, no they are not super scholars, no they are not highly artistic.  They will likely never stand out in the traditional ways our society celebrates.  Oh, you all know that here at home we surely do celebrate our successes...I guess it's just that if I am in a frame of mind to compare, it can be very, very discouraging.  When parenting kids like ours, I often downplay how damn hard it can be, how you have to continually work at finding ways to lift them up, to encourage them, to remind them they are not in competition with anyone else and that someday they too will find their niche.  However, sometimes inwardly I give in to the wrong things, when I think of how we are years and years behind others, and in some areas we may never catch up.  We will not have the kid named in the paper for being on the honor roll, or for scoring the winning touchdown, or for getting the lead part in the local community theater, or for achieving the highest SAT score in town.

What reminded me of the donut?  What pushed me aside from the "hole"?  My friend looked at me and smiled gently, saying "You know what your kids are good at?  Giving from the heart...and really...what is more important?"

How ashamed I am of myself.  How could I let myself for even a single moment not see the enormous donut right in front of me?  In the day to day moments, we are blessed with the presence of children whose generous hearts and spirits make each day a complete pleasure to experience.  Kenny, who came in from clearing ice off the patio this afternoon without being asked saying "Mommy, don't worry about slipping out there, I got most of the patio cleaned for you so you will be safe.".  Angela telling me "Go take a nap this afternoon, I will clean up the dishes.". Matthew building with dominoes with a little guy at church quietly this morning, as they talked about "boy" things and he encouraged him in the way only an older boy can do for a younger one.  Olesya, who has the stomach flu offering to clean the van out as Josh chimes in "No, it's my turn, I haven't done it in awhile and that's not fair."

Thinking about the hole instead of the donut can cause us to miss what is really, truly important.  When the kids are 35 years old, will I be concerned with test scores or performance on the football field?  Or will I be viewing success as taking good care of their families and living lives that are productive and Spirit filled?  Keeping my eye off the hole is my biggest task, for it is easy and seductive to be drawn back to look at it.  It will be a measuring stick that will never, ever really work for our family...and some days it is easier than others to ignore it.

You read Facebook posts of parents whose kids are accomplishing wonderful things, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You cringe in the front pew as your child pauses waaayyy too long while playing the guitar, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You correct several of your children's school work and you are confronted with mistake after mistake, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You wash your child's sheets after they have had an accident in bed when they are far past the age that should happen, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  It has NOTHING to do with jealousy, and everything to do with wishing the path were just a little easier for your own child.

But being in community with others who care and encourage keeps my head on straight, it helps me drive right through that hole with barely a glance and turn around to look at the enormous donut before me.  Being reminded continually of what Jesus would have valued, of what God sees as success, is something I cling to at the worst, most challenging moments.  When my kid is on the volleyball court and once again shrinks away from the ball, or when my child looks at me and asks "Why can't I do math?" with tears in her eyes, or when my son is told that his physical condition is such that dreams may never come true, I HAVE to see the donut, for I have to help them see it too.  It would be too easy to be sucked into the hole and never come out.

It is only in a place where there are Donut People that children can try their hardest, fail in the world's eyes, and yet be loved for exactly who they are and have others work hard at finding ways to help them see themselves as successful..."You went up there with such confidence and played, I could never do that!"..."You sang with such gusto, we loved hearing you!"..."You were so helpful afterwards, we really appreciated your assistance!"..."It's hard to believe you have been here only a year and a half, it feels like you have been part of our church family forever and we are SO proud of all you have accomplished!"

The Donut People in my life help keep me from falling into the hole.  They set an example for me that is priceless.  This week I am going to work hard at seeing only the donut, the hole will always be there if I really find it necessary to revisit.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful--I've looked like a donut, sans hole, for years. Now I have a name. I am a Donut People/Person.

Here are the LaJoys at church. Dominick and Cindy (when not suffering bronchial challenges) in the choir with the children quietly and attentively in the pews. That's after the kids have run off steam playing games upstairs or outdoors while parents and grandparents attended choir practice.

During a Sunday School class making a wall hanging, Matthew saying, "I want to iron" and helping others get their pieces ready for cutting. All of them picking fabric for the figures they are making for the wall hanging.

Angela and Olesya helping with the Cookie Walk, cleaning up, getting dishes returned to the right people.

Kenny sitting in on the adult discussion group, talking about Paul. He asked profound questions, gave insightful answers based on his deep and careful thinking about faith matters. I went home and told my husband about his questions, his answers, his insights.

Decades ago when we were in Australia we found plenty of meat pies, but only in one place, the bakery of new friends did we find donuts. They made them hot and fresh for us, but they had no holes. Every donut hole was filled with sweet, fresh whipping cream.

There are no holes in the LaJoy family, (and I don't mean to minimize some of the huge obstacles each child has to overcome, or the incomprehensible amount of energy and love each of you puts into seeing these children into fulfilling adult lives). But these holes are filled with creativity, wisdom, compassion, thoughtfulness, industry, and love.

May every child have adults who see the donut and not the hole, and may each of us have friends like the LaJoys who remind us to put on our vision of abundance, of hope, peace, joy, and love, not just this season but always.

Joyous noel,

Anonymous said...

I pray that God will keep the donut in front of you, and keep you from focusing on what might be "missing". Sometimes that's hard to do, I know. Though we don't struggle with some of the learning issues some of your kids have, I can sometimes get caught up in focusing how our youngest girls' futures might look different than our older kids, having come to us at 10yrs and 11yrs. But in the end, is there anything I can do to change that? We can work hard to help them catch up academically, to mature at the rate that is possible. Adjusting my own thinking has helped. Who cares if it takes them longer than their peers?

OK, I say that, but I know some of your struggle. But in the end, like you, we only pray that all of our kids choose to live their lives for God.

A number of our kids wet the bed past the age it would be expected, but one of our older girls struggled with bed wetting even in high school. It's even hard for me to write this, as I couldn't believe it took so long for her to outgrow itm and I was so protective of this "secret" for her sake. It didn't matter how she cut down on fluids or anything. She didn't get to experience camp, and some things we didn't allow the other kids to do, simply because she would then be left out. My heart ached so for her, and I didn't understand why God wouldn't help her with the problem. My prayer was that at least by the time she left for college, she would have stopped having accidents. As far as I know, no one outside the family ever knew, but there were times we had to make other excuses to avoid them discovering it. We talked to a specialist, who felt it was just a result of sleep patterns. God did answer our prayers, as she stopped having troubles when she left home. We were all so thankful! Looking back, it still feel bad for the pain it must have caused her. But I know that it made her a more compassionate person. She is now a special ed teacher, caring about kids with extra challenges. Just to encourage you that I also know about that discouragement. They most often outgrow it, but it can sometimes take a long time, in the case of our daughter.

I know your kids are learning love and compassion. They are amazing, Cindy! Keep looking for the donut, and don't forget to enjoy the "sprinkles" on top, too!

Nancy in the Midwest

Hilary Marquis said...

Please move to Minnesota ! I sure could use a friend like you close by. You get it. Watching a kid work so hard and come up short can be so disheartening. I wish with all my heart, and pray with all my might that someday things will fall into place. Thanks for the encouragement!

Kelly and Sne said...

I can empathize as I have one that is excelling and the other that is not. It is so hard to not compare. Especially when others do so readily (of course ONLY when their child's talent exceeds the norm). That said, what has impressed me most of all with your kids is the strength of their character. And in many of the litany of child development books I have read - emotional intelligence is the key to success in life. So your donut is the right one for the long term. Just keep your eye on the prize.