Author Archives: Karen Solms

About Karen Solms

Karen Solms has been a writer since the age of five when she wrote, “Karen the Famous Obstetrician” in Kindergarten to appease her mother’s desire for her to become a doctor - - a dream that came to an abrupt and convincing conclusion when Karen took organic chemistry at Yale. Karen has been married to Tim for 22 years. She absolutely adores him and is so grateful that they are just beginning to get it right. They have three beautiful girls who will have endless fodder to share with each other and many therapists over the years. And in spite of their parents, they are truly delightful, talented, genuine and all around lovely young ladies. Karen writes about faith, life, family, and living abundantly. She continues to write her way into a deeper understanding of the life God intends for her, attempting to define those parameters with words that lift up rather than tear down, and a transparency that will speak to others who are seeking an authentic, God-centered life.

Please Don’t Go To College….

I went to visit colleges with my eldest daughter a few weeks ago. Sometimes the obvious is the last to occur to me….and although I know she is leaving home next year, it was strangely not real to me until we visited colleges together. We were walking across campus in Upstate New York and as I watched the students to-ing and fro-ing, it occurred to me that this was where she might be living, eating, waking up (or sleeping through her alarm), where she would be socializing and working out, where she could be living – – on her own – – not with us, not around our breakfast island or in her bed at night, but in a dining hall and a dorm, with new friends, and a new world surrounding her. And although the reality of her spreading her wings and making that departure is very exciting for me, because I know she is ready, it also makes me very sad and I just wanted to say that out loud. I am sure God already knows that and has a plan to get me out of my own way so as not to get in hers.

I love her face in the morning. It’s so soft and her lashes still look like they did when she was a baby, a little big for her face, almost cartoony long, and with her sleepy morning eyes, and the way she always wakes up with really pink cheeks and her hair going in a thousand different directions, she is still my little girl….she is still somehow so innocent….some things really haven’t changed. But others have. At 17, she is taller than me, stronger than me and smarter than me…even so, whose idea is it to let them go at this tender age? But she is ready, I can tell. She is so eager to see what is next, to compete at a different level, engage at a different level, really test those wings, break out and find out what life feels like on her own. I love that fearlessness. And I remember that feeling. But some mornings, I still have to take “Jenny” – – her stuffed dog that started sleeping with her when she was still wearing her little blue fleece nightie with the pink trim and the embroidered snowflake on the front – – out from under her arm when I wake her up.

This is crazy, this mothering business. This letting go… And all the doubt and wonder of “Have I done enough? Have I prepared her for what she is going to encounter?”….when even I don’t know what’s out there anymore. And when my “power of example” has only been me, muddling through my own life – – with more than a few really important “life lessons” told but not shown, it makes this time even more challenging.

When she was little, I thought I was going to send her off with everything she would need to cope with real life. Really, how naïve and arrogant at the same time, or perhaps just hopefully unrealistic. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to “get it right.” But how do you prepare someone for life? I am not even prepared for it half the time… Not only have I not been the example I have wanted to be, falling woefully short in so many ways, but I am not sure I have taught her the right stuff in the proper priority. Does she know, REALLY know God comes first and all else follows? Does she know without Him, her efforts are for naught?

Does she know she is His beloved? That she is perfectly made and that God has a plan for her today and every day? Does she really know that, or will she seek approval from a world unqualified and ill-suited to give it? Will she have to get to the end of herself, as I have had to do, to illicit change? Or perhaps could she, would she, Please God, take an easier route. Does she pray in little ways a hundred times a day for God to be there, lead the way? Does she trust Him, more than she trusts her own significant smarts or strength or ability? Does she know the elation and discovery that await? The disappointments that await? The death to self in store? Does she know joy can be found in every circumstance – – and that God calls us to dig for it sometimes? Does she know that life isn’t about getting “there,” it’s about being where you are? Can I lighten her load, shorten her journey? Make this life more forgiving for her than it was for me? I don’t think I can. But I love her. SO much.

And in the 18 months I have left with her before she flies the coop, can I be more of an example and less of a talking head? Better yet, can I listen more and not worry about teaching her anything else? Can I experience joy and wonder with her and open my grip? Can we have a little irresponsible fun together – – some hooky days, a ball game or two, ice cream at noon, just because? Or maybe a matinee every fourth Wednesday – – the more low-brow the better? Can I show her in the way I watch her go through her life, that I believe in her, and that I believe in the relationship she shares with God to face anything – – no matter what?

There has been a deep slowing down in me this past year for many reasons. Things haven’t worked out as I had planned or envisioned – – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am reading a novel right now about a girl who had an extraordinarily hard early childhood. All her expectations were dashed before she even made it to ten. The more I think about it – – the more having my expectations dashed is a gift in disguise. Anytime I am working toward a specific picture, I am creating expectations that will more likely than not remain unmet – – I am setting myself up to be disappointed.  Since when does life ever behave? Expectations become a target so small and specific that they are incredibly difficult to meet. And as a result, true satisfaction, in the face of specific expectations, is next to impossible to achieve. The answer? Ditch the expectations. Really, actually. To “thank God in all circumstances,” includes all those circumstances in which I don’t get my own way – – which, let’s be honest, are most of the time in this age and stage as a mom.  And expectations are all about heading toward or hoping for just that…My way.

And the fact of the matter is, all expectations are pretty grandiose. Expectations assumes I know better than God. They just do. God always knows better. All I need do is rewind the history of my own life and focus on some of the things that were the most devastating disappointments to me at the time, which have (not-all-that-surprisingly) worked out to some of my greatest advantage and delight since. Even some of the people I have met who have absolutely rubbed me the wrong way at first, became some of my favorite friends. Expectations are like a bunch of extra work for which I get absolutely no credit. They are like road blocks that I put up myself and then must ultimately lug back off the road before I can simply get on to the plan God had in store for me from the get-go. It’s a step that, if avoided, would save me a lot of time, energy and angst.

But anticipation – – now that’s a different story. Anticipation doesn’t need to fit my picture, follow my plan or resemble my hopes or dreams. Anticipation is about trusting God with the big reveal. And where hope is often extinguished with unmet expectations, anticipation breeds hope, creates hope, and restores hope. God is the source of all hope, and we wait in eager anticipation of Him. Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could treat the rest of my life like that. What next God? Do tell.

In this season of inevitability – – particularly in preparing for my first to leave home – – there has been a quieting in my spirit – – a willingness to wait and see what happens instead of trying to manufacture results. Honestly, it’s more of an impasse, where my way just isn’t working or isn’t possible any more. So I suppose it’s an end-of-my-rope, or a none-of-the-above set of options that have bred this renewed brand of willingness…But it’s a willingness none-the-less, and I am grateful for it.

This place of open-handed, I-give-up-willingness has also extended my perspective beyond where I am to where God is leading. This no-man’s-land has shown me I do have confidence in the unseen – – the yet-to-be-revealed – – that I do trust God, no matter what. That’s faith. And even when nothing else seems clear, I know I trust God. And that’s really good news.

There has been a stillness and faith in me, that is both new and renewed. It’s an on-my-knees place. And I haven’t been here in a while. Seeing things for what they are, not what I want them to be, and being willing to show up and do my part, no matter what.

I had an old friend in North Carolina who used to tell me there was a big difference between believing in God, having faith in Him and living a life reliant upon Him. For the moment, I think I have reached reliance.

So in watching my “big girl” prepare to fly, I am trying to live my faith rather than teach it. I wish the Bible didn’t have so many lines like “clanging cymbal,” – – visual and visceral references to what it is to be a proponent of God-centered living while not living that way yourself. I think the standard should always be “show not tell.” Those are the examples that stick. Those are the behaviors that transform. And I still have time – – I will always have time.

It never fails to amaze me that God always has something so new for me to apply. It’s like He gave me all the essential truths right up front – – from the very beginning of my faith – – but the opportunities to live them out have come in real time, with more and more opportunities the more rich and complex my life becomes. The learning curve and the opportunities for application never cease. They are daily – – sometimes minute by minute. Thanks God?! Yes, thanks.

God wants me to trust Him, live with joy, be at peace, and love others. He wants me to do that as a woman, wife, friend, member of society and as a mom. He doesn’t say he wants me to do things perfectly, or that I am responsible for preparing my kid for everything, or even that I need to always teach and lead by example (because sometimes he uses my failures as some of the best not-to-do examples). He doesn’t ascribe to the measures of this world – – God’s standards always take into consideration far more than I can possibly imagine and almost never follow the patterns of what the world defines as success. God says he wants my kid to have relationship with Him and he will take care of the rest with her as her time here on earth goes by. That’s all.

And unbelievably, my part – – the part I know and have played for the past 18 years is ending, changing, turning into something completely different when it comes to my eldest. It has been so short. Really. So although I am loathe to give direct advice, (because really, what do I know when it comes to the business of raising kids…) I am going to do it anyway. Enjoy it. Savor it. Slow it down. Engage. Listen. Love. Be silly. Touch, Embrace, Rough House. Share time and space. Get good at something together. Listen some more. Put down, close, and avoid all things that need to be plugged in. Share special time, familiar places, activities you love, and time doing nothing, together. Linger at bedtime. And never miss a hug. Being present is a real-time commitment that is its own reward.

God’s gift to me is that he left the memory of how excited I was to break out and go to college on my own – – how eager I was to test my wings. He left that memory so palpable for me – – that as much as I am rather shocked she is already going, I am in the same I-can’t-believe-it-breath, really excited for her too. It has been, for me, a supreme joy and privilege to raise kids. It has been a gift from God. My part of that process is now shifting radically with my eldest, which means God has a new role for me, in life, in relation to Emerson, with the kids still at home and in the world. In God’s economy, adventure always awaits – – He keeps us looking forward and not back, hopeful, not heartbroken, eager, not discouraged. That’s the adventure He offers. Bon Voyage Emerson. And anchors away, me.

Wherever You Go, There You Are… Right Where You’re Supposed To Be

What if I am RIGHT where I am supposed to be, right now? What if that were actually and, more importantly, always true?  This morning, I woke up at 4:55 a.m. to get the big girls going so they could be out the door at 5:30 to their morning row on the Potomac River in Georgetown. Still waking up myself, I dallied a little bit before I went to their rooms to get them up, so it was 5:15 by the time they actually had their “feet on the floor”….which pushed back my food assembly for the morning (a substantial task when feeding athletes), which meant the big girls didn’t get out the door before 5:40, which meant I was already 10 minutes late getting Bateman out of bed so we could ERG together before her music lesson – – a once a week affair at 7:15 a.m. So I hurried Bateman out of bed without the regular fan-fare and we got out to the garage by ten of six, ERG-ed until 6:30, then I took the dogs-to-the-yard, made a round-two breakfast for Bateman and right on-the-dot at seven, we jumped in the car to go to her lesson on the other side of town…. On the way, we discovered a car had jumped the highway and sailed into an apartment complex which had our regular route closed down so we took a detour that was significantly less efficient, making us perilously close to late. At this point I was about to give myself a pat on the back for executing the hardest morning of the week almost flawlessly, but just then the phone rang, and it was Emerson muttering the dreaded, “Mom, I forgot my…..”

As much as those calls make me CRAZY, I kind of love them too, and I know I will miss them 050515_0216_WhereverYou8.jpgwhen they are gone. Thank goodness I am just like my eldest when it comes to organization. I GET that you can totally forget your shoes, twice a week, when assembling a post-workout, pre-school wardrobe change. I GET that things like car keys and homework and socks can disappear without fair warning. I understand that “getting everything squared away for the morning” never really includes everything…. But that never makes it easier for me to adjust in the moment when plans unexpectedly change, it just enables me to offer a little (and I mean a little) bit of grace when I do get those calls…

So again, I patted myself on the back for not “hollering” back a text but rather sending a “Sure sweetie, I will look for your Bean Boots” and eyed the clock to see if I had enough time to make it home and back before the music lesson was over. Just enough. So off I went and was doing fine until the phone rang on my way into the house to retrieve Emerson’s shoes, with Bateman calling from her lesson, saying, “Mom, I feel sick.”

I think in pictures, so the moment I got Bateman’s call, the next “scene” that popped into my head was her throwing up on sweet Mrs. Berlin’s carpet. But I nixed the image and suggested she might want to run to the bathroom until I got there and told her I was no more than 12 minutes away. I finished the conversation while running up to the attic bedroom to find a Emerson’s shoes in what I was praying wasn’t an unholy mess. Once found, I began texting my eldest to renegotiate a drop off point and time for her shoes. “Bateman’s sick can you meet me en route?” Four unanswered texts to my shoeless-daughter later, I was starting to get a little hot.

‘You do your part, and I will do mine….’ It is a refrain that goes through my head ALL THE TIME. It is what literally pops into my head every time I run into something not put away, a chore left undone or an unexpected task that stands in the way of the things I so hope to get to in the course of my own day.

Careening back to the music lesson, I got to my little one before I had to call Stanley Steemer to clean Mrs. Berlin’s carpet, and I finally connected with my big girl to arrange an alternate rendezvous point for the shoe exchange. On the way to drop them off, I dictated Bateman-will-be-absent emails – – typed by the pale-faced child herself – – and sent them over the phone to her coach, her homeroom teacher, and the school office queen who had already heard from me three times in the past week about unexpected changes in schedule. Real sicknesses always seems to happen in near proximity to other kinds of absences – – this week’s happened to fall between a legitimate orthodontist appointment and an absolutely illegitimate afternoon of hooky as I snuck Bateman out of her last period to attend an all-important Nat’s baseball game with once-in-a-lifetime-behind-home-plate-seats. (Thank you Debbie!)

All morning long I felt like I was just behind the curve – – running as fast as I could only to keep falling further and further behind – – almost but not quite where I was supposed to be. That is an EXHAUSTING feeling. To me it often feels like ‘Fail, Fail, Fail…’ when I am doing the best I can, or ‘Faster, Faster, Faster…’ when I am pedaling as fast as I can go.

So much of my time in this age and stage of life feels like I am trying to leap-frog the moment I am in to get to the one in front of it….which isn’t even POSSIBLE!? Those are the moments no one drives right, everyone is an idiot and I end up not listening to the story someone is telling me, in which the actual high or low point of their day is hidden, begging to be recognized….treasures which are lost to me when I am not fully present. When I am playing the game of what is happening vs. what should be happening, I lose the moment I am in.

I think when I try and live ahead of where I am, or try and make life fit my schedule and expectations, it’s always (and I use that absolute on purpose) a disaster waiting to happen. This past weekend, Phoebe and I were running around the Occoquan River, trying to make it to the grandstand to see her sister cross the finish line. We were both half jogging to make up time, and I was not looking where I was going when my foot hit a root and I literally started flailing forward – – arms wind-milling, feet churning, going faster and faster trying desperately not to fall, chin-first, into the dirt. That’s what I do when I try and live ahead of where I am – – and it feels and looks just as ungainly. The only way I was going to stop myself from falling on the path was if I could restore my balance by getting my feet back under my body. And just as I cannot stay upright when my center of gravity is ahead of my body, nor can I live life, ahead of where I actually am.

And I began to think about the morning….What if I was RIGHT where I was supposed to be, all morning long – – through it all – – through every unexpected change, every inconvenient moment, during each ridiculous 180 or change of plan? What if I was right where I was supposed to be every ungraceful and mutable step of the way? What if that were actually true? What if all the flailing had to do with me wanting to be somewhere other than where I was – – what if all the stumbling forward was me trying to make life fit my picture instead of appreciating the picture that was unfolding before me? What if an ever-changing life, is the balance God is asking me to negotiate? And what if I negotiate that balance by simply trusting Him in revealing life in the order, sequence and measure He chooses.

What if I was supposed to take that detour with my daughter – – spend that extra time with her? What if it was a good thing that I took a few extra minutes to orient myself before launching into the wake-up time with the big girls – – even if it tilted my schedule on its end? What if it was just fine that everything I had planned and expected for the morning changed? What if it would have been o.k., EVEN if Bateman had thrown up before she left her music lesson? What if it is always o.k., to be just exactly where I am with just exactly what is going on around me at the time?

Who am I to decide that life SHOULD go a certain way, or happen on my schedule? Life goes the way it goes, no matter how hard I chase perfection-according-to-me. Life happens as it happens sometimes because of me, sometimes in spite of me but the overwhelming majority of the time wholly unrelated to me.

And even though I might be right where I am supposed to be, I constantly battle with the idea that I am some amorphous and ever-equidistant expanse from being where I ‘should be.’ I have always been one goal away from all-squared-away, 10 or 20 pounds from just-right, 30 minutes from happy, 40 minutes from sane, almost relaxed, just about ready, not quite content, far from prepared and always, ALWAYS, almost there. And as a result, I have just-a-minuted my way through far too much of my life, instead of fully inhabiting it as it plays out in real time.

And when I just-a-minute-life and those in it, I carry this enormous tension – -this inner drive to ‘get there’ so I can relax. But getting there, Being done, finishing up never happens in the now. ‘When I….’ never occurs in the present. So if I can only relax when our retirement is in order, or when I finish the next task, or when the event is over, or when my presentation is done, or when the kids are in college, or working or married or whatever the eventuality is – – If I can only relax ‘When’ – – I can never actually relax. The same goes with ‘Once’….I will be able to relax once the house is organized the photos are in order, the grocery shopping is done, the clothes are culled, the yard is mowed, the garage is dry, the painter comes, the list goes on ad infinitum…. There is always a ‘when’ or a conditional ‘once’ and if I cannot learn to be present for the time between the when and the once, well, life ends up being exhausting, unfulfilling and a precarious structure exclusively constructed upon the infinitesimal odds of having life fit my static picture of how it should be.

The net result of living this way is that I never look forward to ANYTHING. I only look forward to things being over.

My mother once said to me, “Don’t wish your life away…” And this is exactly what she was talking about. Life isn’t good when. It’s good now. When never comes. It just doesn’t. And nor do perfect circumstances.

I remember when my eldest, Emerson, was in pre-K at Casa Montessori, the most wonderful school in the world in Austin, Texas. I was at my wits end with her. Her timing was always slower than my schedule. When she was little we even called her (in secret and in love….) MO-lasses. There was never a flower not smelled, a butterfly not noted or a detour not taken, and her attention was so intense, it was hard to get her to jump from one task to the next without accompanying questions, or lingering interest. Whether it was saddling up the dog, or inspecting an ant…there was absolutely no rushing Miss Emerson. Still isn’t. And I remember, in all my type-A glory, coming through the drive through drop-off one day (of course) and pausing after she trotted off to class to ask the world’s best teacher,  “What on earth can I do to get Emerson to speed up in the mornings?” While I was anticipating a great piece of Montessori or Martha Winters-wisdom, she just laughed and said to me gently, “Oh, Karen. It’s not Emerson who needs to speed up; it’s you who needs to slow down.” And, as usual,  Martha was right. It seems nearly 15 years later, I am still working on the same issue, just in relation to me and life in general.

When I am always laying the ground work for LATER, my attention never gets to rest on the present. And I am absent, in a funny way – – totally absent – – from my own life. It’s why life can feel hollow for me sometimes. Because I haven’t been there. It’s the difference between watching a ball game from behind home plate – – or watching a ball game on television, while answering email and making dinner all at the same time. Two totally different experiences. I want the live version of my own life – – the one I get to live purposefully and with my full attention. But I have to be willing to stop chasing the lie that I can tie up all the loose ends before I actually stop, slow down and relax, or inhabit the moment I am in.

And how does that play out in my relationships? In the long term, the full measure of relationship will be restored if I can stop giving directives and give the people around me the time and space to share about their day, and take the time to listen and then share about my own day – – my own life, my relationships will flourish, not based on what issues get resolved, or tasks get knocked off a list, but the gentle execution of shared time. Real life happens, regardless. I can either spend my life policing the pace, content and sequence of time, or just jump in and share the ride with the people I love.

‘Be Where you Are.’ It’s on my fridge. But it won’t translate into my life until I stop getting ahead of myself and settle down into the moment I am in, with the KNOWLEDGE, that life is always going to throw in unexpected detours, sick children, left shoes and afternoon classes that get in the way of Nat’s home games. The trick to life might just be, taking a deep breath, opening my arms and saying, “I didn’t know you were going to happen this way, but I have been expecting you!” I can embrace life. I can expect the unexpected. And I can hold fast to the notion that I am right where I am supposed to be.

There is an actual destination in life– and if I look down and draw a circle around my own two feet, it’s right there in the middle. God makes no mistakes in time and place. So I can relax NOW. I can breathe NOW. I can engage NOW.  I can listen NOW.  I can live NOW, no matter what. And I can rest in the fact that I am absolutely right where I am supposed to be, right now.