Immature Mom Moment?

My counselor asked me once why I always feel behind.  Oh gracious, I could write a book about that.

But it all starts with intending to wake up before my children, and snoozing in just a few extra peaceful minutes only to find one of them waking me up instead.  (A kid at 6am is harder to ignore than an alarm at 5:45 apparently.)

This morning my usual three year old culprit greeted me and I had to shush him and whisk him down the stairs before he woke up the other two angelic sleeping children. (And “angelic” is a word we seldom use in this house.)

Then I sat down to have my “quiet time” where I read a chapter of a book or some chapters in my Bible or pray (or for the love of all things sugar-free be ALONE).  But I find myself feeling guilty that while I’m trying to have a calm conversation with God I have to keep yelling at a mischievous child.  I think God gets it but its awkward.

Finally my little guy wore me down, as usual, and I invited him to join my “quiet time” if he could, in fact, be quiet.  Bless his heart.  He lowered his voice to a toddler whisper, but the kid never stopped talking. Asking me questions.  Wanting me to see what he was working on.

Death glare.  “Child…you will learn what quiet means if it is the only legacy I pass on to you.”

Finally my older daughter came in and I gave up my not-so-quiet endeavor to look something up on the computer for her.  Next thing I knew, I looked over and my preschooler was wielding his scissors and must have been bored with paper because he was now intent on trying to cut my new blue shirt.

I mom panicked into over-reacting umm….just a smidge we’ll say.  My poor son was surprised and hurt by how quickly I over-scolded him. 

I shooed my daughter out of the room and told her to get dressed, I plucked my crying three year old up and put him in time-out with yet another firm reminder that “we ONLY cut paper” (which his little brain will file away in the same place he puts my rules about not coloring on the wall).

Then in anger I called out passive aggressively to no one in particular (but specifically my husband) something about having to handle all the things myself just because I’m “mom”.  (Translation: obviously we are in crisis mode and if my tirade and a crying child didn’t get you down here…I’m going to lay out an additional suuuuper subtle hint for you.)

Then I sat down for a brief moment, probably to stew in irritability even though my shirt didn’t actually get cut after all.  And suddenly it occurred to me…my husband had kissed me goodbye a good 15 minutes ago and left for work already.  He clearly had no idea of the shirt and scissors kerfuffle and thankfully he also missed my immature mom moment of taking my frustration out on him.

I’m actually relieved because the minute I realized he wasn’t there I saw my Mom meltdown for what it was- that kind of embarrassing time when my kids witnessed me yelling at literally no one because of a blue shirt.  I had made a mistake but since he wasn’t there I got to take it back and start over.  (How often does that happen?)

Whew.  With any luck he won’t even read this blog and he’ll be none the wiser. 😉

Now my big kids are at school and my son has been sneaking his own lunch while I type.  But I think its worth it to take a minute to cheer you up with my immaturity.


 

What about you?  Any embarrassing or slightly over-reacting moments from your parenting career?  Feel free to share- sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves brings us a little perspective on our frustrations for today.

What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Help! Is My Kid Broken or Am I?

Angry little voices broke the veil between reality and whatever vague dream my sleepy mind wandered in.  I yelled one of those pointless things we say as parents when we our plans don’t include dealing with petty and ridiculous now or ever.  “Everyone just work it out!”

I scanned the closest electronic device for the time: 6:30am.  For real, children?  As the arguing escalated, I went into the hall to find all three children awake with books creatively stacked across my daughter’s floor.  My brows went up, which is quite a feat for that hour: “How long have you guys been up?”

My answer-ready daughter filled me in: Her 6 year old brother had come into her room at some point in the night to “sleep”, which apparently translates more closely to “stay up and play”.  Alarmed by the prospect of handling severely sleep deprived children, I pressed further.  “Exactly how long have you been playing?”  She mused that it might have been starting to get light out when he came in.

(Can anyone say espresso please?)

Thus began one of those mornings when I knew exactly which kid would meltdown.  Sure enough, despite a relatively normal morning routine, my middle son was a puddle before 8am.  And by the time the bus rolled through, he decided he’d rather hide than ride.  My eight year old willingly stepped onto the bus but my son?  He threw off his backpack, kicked off his shoes, and retreated under a blanket on the living room couch.  So I mustered my politest smile (the last one of the hour) and sent the driver down the road with just one kid, my mind whirling about how to get my son out the door (for the love) for what was likely a regular day for most kids.

After delivering an ultimatum that should earn me an honorary lawyer’s degree, I convinced him to go to school and we dropped him off miraculously by 9am.  But even though it wasn’t easy, with him it could easily have been a lot worse.

So here’s my thing: am I intentionally raising one of my kids to throw tantrums and hit me when he’s mad?  Have I spent hours teaching one kid to obey authority while letting the others run amok with no direction?  Mm…gonna have to say no.

I have three kids- one who willingly complies and responds well to discipline, one that schmoozed two boxes of Twinkies from a stranger at the store today (not really the point, but still…), and one who is chronically difficult for me to direct.  Discipline and positive motivators alike…they’ve all failed at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing kid: he’s sensitive, thinks of others, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to build rockets or bridges when he grows up.  But he also has bursts of anger that his almost 7 year old self should have kicked to the curb at age 4.  He gets very stuck in a thought pattern and has a hard time unlocking.  Sometimes he’s trying to be difficult, other times you can tell he feels like he’s the victim and he’s lashing out in his own misdirected attempt to right the wrongs he feels.  (And trust me, his episodes aren’t pretty.)

Often I feel like I’m doing something terribly wrong with him.  If I’d just been more consistent…if I’d just set clearer boundaries when he was a three month old.  If only I were more structured and less irritable.  And all of that has left me with guilt that is about as helpful as a hole in my window screen.

We could all be better parents (understatement of the century) but I’m realizing that’s not the only issue.

When it comes to our kids, there are some areas that we expect differences in.  We assume not all children will be equally athletic or artistic.  We understand that some will be amazing dancers and others will trip over their feet fifty times a day.  Some can belt and carry a tune at age three and some, well…bless their heart.

While we wouldn’t look down on all children for lacking the coordination to dribble a ball down the court, we sometimes set more uniform standards for what kids should be doing behaviorally.  We think ALL kids should be able to sit, focus, respond well to discipline.  ALL kids should be able to access words to tell us what’s wrong and deal with it rather than take it out in unhealthy ways.  And because we think ALL kids should be able to comply with our standard behavioral expectations, we either think something is wrong with the kid or with the parents and their discipline.

We say things like, “If that were MY kid…” or “If they just told him no more often…”  We label kids in negative ways.  We act like there’s an obvious, uniform answer for all our kids.  But what if there’s not?

Honestly, in the past I’ve been more judgmental about other people’s parenting or their kids. I probably still am occasionally.  But I’m beginning to realize what I wish I’d known long ago- just like all kids aren’t artistic or athletic equals- not all kids are behavioral equals either.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have healthy limits and goals for our children whatever their DNA and personality.  It’s just that we can’t plug in some easy formula for each of them and expect to get the same neat and tidy results.

Some kids wrestle with anxiety through no fault of their own or their parents.  Some kids throw hour long tantrums over something that other kids would get over in two minutes.  Some kids are naturally compliant and some aren’t.  Some, like mine, have anger bursts that surprise and undo me despite repeated attempts to curb and improve his behavior.

My point is simply this: each kid is so wildly different, and parenting is an all-out exhausting endeavor where you can’t use the same owner’s manual for more than one kid.  In my experience, the owner’s manual is pretty incomplete to begin with.

Certainly we as parents play a huge part in raising up responsible, well-adjusted kids.  But I also know this: each one of my kids processes and responds to direction, discipline, and motivators in irritatingly unique ways.

From missing buses to outbursts on one hand, to high-flung drama and irrational tears for another; from the sheer crazy of a three year old who crashes into everything, to an eight year old that I sometimes have to tell to please put down her book while her friend is over.

They’re all so very different.  And we as parents are too.  Parenting is part figuring out who my kids are and part figuring out who I am and uncovering how to meet constructively in the middle.  With discipline.  With goals.  And hopefully always with love.

I’m a mess.  My kids are a mess.  We’re not perfect and both my parenting and their behavior could be a lot better a lot of the time.  But we’re a work in progress and I imagine you are too.

If you have felt judged or incompetent as a parent because your kid didn’t seem to fit neatly into the behavior or discipline “norm”, please share your story!  How have you learned to let go of people’s expectations?  How have you learned to help your child or yourself overcome some difficulties (like anger, anxiety, OCD, etc) that other kids don’t deal with as frequently?

Let’s encourage each other with our stories.

 

I Don’t Know (Gray Faith Study Ch 8: Gray Answers)

“I don’t know” has become one of the most refreshing phrases to hear others say, and yet it doesn’t roll off my own tongue easily.  In fact, sometimes I have to chase it down and drag it out of my mouth kicking and screaming.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I so desperately want to fix everything- to make it better.  I NEED for there to be an answer…or I think that’s what I need.  What they need.  What you need.

At core admitting that “I don’t know” is a massive letting go of control.   Letting go of my perceived control over making someone happy, my perceived ability to make someone better, our perceived control over situations that are broken.

But trusting in God takes the “I don’t know” to another level of humility because I have to concede that He DOES KNOW.  It’s this letting go of my belief that I’m capable of even beginning to fathom the vast knowledge that spans souls and soil, breath and bread, Spirit and truth. And that’s scary.

But what’s perhaps even scarier is that God knows the answers and yet problems still exist.  The suffering still continues.  My friends’ pain isn’t getting wrapped up neatly.  My own struggles aren’t dissolving.  If God knows the answer and the problem persists then maybe we’re tempted to throw God out entirely and say we can’t believe in a God who knows and hasn’t fixed.

Or.  OR.  We chase the why.  We become absolutely convinced that even if we don’t know how to SOLVE a problem we can make it better with a “why” bandaid.  Why does someone’s pain exist? Is God teaching them something?  Did we make a mistake?  Is something amazing going to happen through the suffering?  Why?

“I don’t know” is a giant inky pool that no one wants to swim in.  We think answers are the life-raft to save us- but they’re not.  They might actually be trapping us, handicapping us, holding us hostage.

But…God is there in the inky pool holding us somehow in the not knowing.  He is a Life-raft that somehow envelops us more securely than the styrofoam answers we’re clinging to.

Photo Credit: Joy Martin

And He, Holder of the answers, Creator of the world, Sustainer of our cells and souls, perhaps wants us to trust in Him even more than in answers.

And just as He sits with us in our unanswered mess, walks with us and speaks identity over us, we can sit with others and extend to them the grace of not knowing.  We can point them to the Answer that doesn’t always resolve our problems here-and-now, neat and clean- that Spirit that surpasses all the other answers that we think we need.

Maybe that sounds like another easy answer.  But I’ve had to fight and flounder to believe it, and even now it isn’t easy.  I can honestly say now that finding God’s presence in my life has been the single thing that keeps me afloat because I’ve felt Him when nothing else made sense.

But that’s where my story is.

I know for some just getting to that place of believing in God feels like too big a step, too much faith in what you can’t see.   I don’t want to diminish that struggle or try to fix you with some platitude.

So I’ll leave you to ponder, to wonder, to seek.  But I hope that when the search for answers wearies you and you can’t even find the whys, that you might venture trusting in surprisingly steady arms in that dark sea you find yourself in.

And for those who feel like they have to have all the answers, or that God isn’t pleased if they can’t find a verse to combat any problem…may you somehow find peace and rest in the not knowing.

Here’s the FINAL Gray Faith video/Study Guide!!  (Chapter 8)


Experiment #8-
Whatever you believe has been shaped by many things. I challenge you to take away the books, the friend’s opinions that fill your head, even the things you were taught to believe as a child. When you strip away all these things, what is the bottom line of your belief- the fundamental reason you believe as you do. Sometimes this means mentally suspending what you believe momentarily to ask yourself if another way makes sense. For example, can you imagine that God doesn’t exist? Would your life be substantially changed if He didn’t? What, if any, personal experiences have you had with God that shape your belief? Even if you don’t feel like you have all the answers, imagine what living out your deepest beliefs may look like in your practical life.

Chapter 8 Study Questions:

1.What does it mean to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” when we don’t have the answers? Why is this necessary?

2. Formulas can be tools to help us grow, but how can they become negative?

3. Imagine/discuss what you believe Eden was like: a perfect relationship with God, a world before the curse. How do you see brokenness of the fall in everything humans have touched?

4. Respond to this statement: “The beauty of the world and the suffering alike tell me that we were meant for more.”

5. Have you experienced Jesus to be bigger than your circumstances? Explain.

6. Be honest with yourself/ your group, and God- what are some the “unanswered” questions in your life?

7. How can you live with questions and still actively believe in God?

Bible passages for further reading:
Romans 1:18-20 (God reveals Himself through creation); Mark 9:14-29 (Jesus heals a boy/father asks for help with unbelief); Matthew 11:1-6 (John the Baptist questions Jesus’ identity);

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.

Wanted: Failing Moms

I stifled my suffocating emotions as I cuddled the boy I’d reduced to frightened tears only moments before.  It didn’t matter that he had pushed all my buttons.  It didn’t matter that he’d angrily pulled the dresser drawers onto his bed and had plastered the floor with his crumpled clothes.  It didn’t matter that I’d started out as calm-super-mom patiently asking him to make things right.

He pushed.  And he pushed some more.  And I lost it.

Not in the “Christian” way.  Not in the “Oh Honey, we all make mistakes sometimes” way.  In the way that leaves you questioning why God would for a minute trust YOU as a mother.  What kind of mom could not just misplace her temper but lose it like a lego stuck in the van seat.

And for a whole night all I could think was that I wanted two things: one impossible and the other nearly so.  I wanted to rewind and undo my monster moment with my son more than anything.  And I desperately hoped in the basement of my soul that there was even one other Mom who had struggled with anger like I had.  Just one other mom like me that looked sweet and put together in church or the school pick up line but couldn’t always keep her stuff glued when push came to shove.

I scrambled through my list of friends, but fear has a way of isolating our worst broken places from the very people who could help us walk through it.  Sympathize with us.  Cry with us while we trudge slowly towards a better way to love.  And while I knew none of my friends were “perfect moms”, were there any that wouldn’t just listen to my bad mom confession, but silently nod their head and give me a look that said, “You’re not alone”?

Suddenly, I no longer cared whether I “looked bad” to other moms- I was overwhelmingly afraid of my capacity to BE a bad mom.  Not all the time.  Not most of the time maybe.  But in that broken moment when I didn’t have a blessed excuse to stand on for my actions.

So often the church and even school mom circles feels a little like that scene from “Mean Girls”

when Lyndsay Lohan (Cady) first gets invited with the “mean girl” clique to Rachel McAdams’ (Regina’s) home.  Cady looks on, confused, as the three other gorgeous girls take turns looking in the mirror and lamenting over their physical “flaws”.  One girl laments that her “pores are huge” and another decries that her “nailbeds suck”.  They’ve made it a ritual to feel better about themselves by each sharing some superficial shortcoming with the others.  But their bond is as shallow as their confessions.

In the same way, we’re willing to share what we consider our kind-of-bad stuff.  The way we’re hopelessly late because God didn’t bless us with an internal clock.  The way we indulge in a little too much coffee, but doesn’t everyone?  Even the cute little mistakes we make as moms like accidentally driving our kids to school on a national holiday or caving and letting the three year old help himself to a gazillion church doughnuts.  (Yes, I’ve done both.)

But when and where do we talk about the gritty stuff?  The real “bad mom” stuff?  The “I’m pretty sure I’m raising a murderer” stuff.  The “I cried myself to sleep over my mistake” stuff.  The mom fails that go beyond the superficial bad of dessert for breakfast or lying about the whereabouts of their toy when you know good and well you gave it to goodwill.

And while I’m not proud of myself, I figure the conversation has to start somewhere.  So here it is:

I’m not always a good mom.  I’m not always an OK mom, even.  Sometimes I screw up so bad I don’t want to tell any of you about it.  Sometimes I’m afraid if people only really knew… (and I’m afraid to finish that sentence.)

This isn’t a cry for accolades- I really am not looking for someone to tell me “I’m sure you aren’t as bad as you think, Sweetie.”

I want someone who will look me in the eye and tell me that I did screw up.  And then hug me and tell me that they’ve been there too.  Maybe not the same way.  But that parenthood has broken them in ways they’re afraid to tell anyone about too.  That they’re afraid sometimes of their own capacity to squish and scar the little lives they’ve been entrusted with. That some “bad mom” moments can’t be laughed away over coffee or numbed away over wine, but spill out in hot guilty tears in a pillow and linger long after the offense is over.

To any moms who feel this way: you. are. not. alone.  I see you and feel for you.  And while you may have made a mistake that isn’t “cute” or excusable- you are human.  And maybe you need to take a step to work towards change.  I know I do.  But don’t forget that your love for your child is so much stronger than that moment of brokenness.  Don’t for a second give up completely.  And whatever you do, don’t hide the shame away- because shame has a way of magnifying itself in secret and maybe our healing begins in pulling back the curtain to our vulnerable moments and letting someone see our real flaws.

So I’m putting out the application to you.. “Wanted: Failing Moms”.  Your brokenness is not too big for this space.  And if you need to vent publicly or through a private message, I’m more than willing to listen.  And I have a feeling we’re not as alone as we think.

I’d Rather Run (Gray Faith Study Ch. 7: Gray Walk)

Ever tell your kid or your friend something really incredibly wise…and later realize you’re not applying that wisdom for yourself?

That’s how I felt this week as I finished up my “Gray Walk” video.  I recently bought a new 18 month planner and frankly I’m obsessed with it.  I love the inspirational cover.

I love the peppy quotes on the cover tab of each new month. 

I adore the little stickers it came with.But I’m also alarmingly addicted to the rapidly growing to-do items I’m filling that planner with.  Whether I’m taking the kids to the dentist or sending out important emails, I’m finding a bit too much satisfaction in checking off my boxes and making things happen.

I went on vacation last week and actually struggled with my unplanned self in a major way.  Not a pretty fight.  I’d rather run than walk, (in a purely metaphorical way, thank you very much), because running gets you there faster.

The point is I’m not terribly good at resting, especially with God.  I so want to live a meaningful life, driven by Him and His kingdom, that I often forget the greatest things I do in life aren’t measured by numbers, checks or tasks.

My most glorious moments are when God is producing something in me, in His presence, in His time.  And that requires a lot less of me and a great deal more of Him.  It’s what He’s doing in me as I wait, as He walks with me, as He weaves a story through His presence in my life.  He’s interested in shaping my heart before my planner- which might require me to lay that planner aside every now and then and just be.  Just find out who He is.  Just let Him speak His beautiful words and be silent for a minute in awe before Him.

So when you watch this video of me going on and on about walking with God…know that He is currently throwing me a life-raft out in the deep end of my own business and fruitless productivity.  (There’s one to mull over.)  So I hope it inspires, but if you’re feeling like you’re having a hard time slowing down with God to rest…you can come over and we’ll practice together.

Experiment #7:

Perhaps you’ve never talked to God and expected Him to interact with you. No matter where you are in your walk, I challenge you to try spending time with God in a new way this week. We will all experience God in different ways and atmospheres based on our personality, so begin to notice the things and places that you love, because those are the areas where you may be most likely to connect with God. Even if this feels strange, try at least one of the following this week:

Try to be more interactive with God during your Bible reading. Before you begin reading, take some time to pray that God will show you a passage or verse. You might want to keep a phone or computer near so you can look up verses if a word or phrase pops into your mind: biblegateway.com is a fantastic online resource that lets you search for key words/topics in whatever Bible version you prefer to use. Even if you don’t feel that God is impressing you with anything specific (which is OK!), ask Him to speak to you personally as you read any passage in the Bible. If you need a place to start, you might try one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) which tell about the life of Jesus. If anything sticks out to you, write it down or pray about it.

Sometimes being aware that God is interacting with us personally simply begins with expecting Him to. Act on a nudge to give to someone, call someone, go somewhere, or do something God might be directing you to do, even if it feels silly. Don’t overthink. You may even find that God works through something that felt like a “coincidence” because God is always at work behind the scenes. Write about what happened when you took your baby step of faith this week.
Spend several minutes listening to worship music or sitting outside alone, etc. (You can use online worship from Pandora or make a playlist on Spotify if you don’t own worship music.) Focus more on listening to God and being with Him and His presence than in talking to Him. Maybe try kneeling, lifting your hands, or even dancing if you feel like it. Experimenting with our posture and the different ways we can worship helps us to step outside of a plastic relationship and routine. It might feel strange and that’s OK. Reflect on how God may meet you, speak to you, or lead you to worship.
Do something that you love- playing music, going for a walk, working out at the gym, painting or creating through art, writing, dancing, hiking, ________ (insert your own). As you do, consider that God is with you in this activity, and that He enjoys this about you because He made you to enjoy it. Reflect on how it feels to know that you can meet God anywhere- even in things that don’t feel “spiritual”.

Chapter 7 Study Questions:

1. How has “should” controlled your life or kept you from enjoying your journey? What would you let go of or do differently today if you weren’t so concerned about what you “should” do?

2. A friend once told me that God is like a good parent. As parents we don’t expect our kids to ask us about every little decision they make; we enjoy watching them create and make decisions on their own and be themselves. Does this change the way you view your relationship with God?

3. Share a time when God met you in the details of your life.

4. “I don’t know why I fight for control so much, when the end of my control is so often where I encounter the living God.” Can you relate to this statement? Explain.

5. How do we trust in God “in the middle”: after the promise but before the miracle; after the prayer but before the answer?

6. Read Psalm 139. How does this passage give you understanding of God’s view of you and the details of your life?

7. Does following God feel routine to you or has it felt like a bit of an experiment? When do you feel most alive in your interactions with God?

8. How can we learn to embrace our possible “mistakes” in our attempts to seek God? Discuss the importance of having godly friends (who don’t all think just like we do!) to challenge us along the way and keep us balanced.


If you’re enjoying the online Gray Faith study, feel free to comment or pass this along to anyone who might enjoy it.  Thanks so much for being part of the gray discussion.  🙂

 

To Kill a Brother

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

(Public Domain)

The last time I felt so sick to my stomach over racism was in a little town in South Carolina where my Memaw used to live.  We’d driven down to visit her and on a whim decided to take a stroll through the quaint, brick buildings at the town center.  If the place were once thriving, you’d never know- there were few people out, and you got the sense that the world around had moved on, or rather out of town.

There we stumbled upon the “Red Neck Store” which innocently advertised itself as a purveyor of southern souvenirs- a unique local gift shop maybe.  We were so wrong.  Though the store was tiny and much too warm, I felt more suffocated by the shocking contents that assaulted me.  It took us longer to process the evil than it should have; oh, there was some light-hearted “red-neck” merchandise, alright… right alongside KKK outfits and other blatantly racist paraphernalia.

As our disgust caught up to our sheer shock, we shuffled uneasily towards the exit.  As we turned to leave, the salesman motioned towards some t-shirts with a picture of Obama, who’d recently been elected for his first term.  “They’re guaranteed to burn!” he called out, hatred glowing in his eyes.  Nail in coffin- we got out of there fast and didn’t look back.

How could such overt racism exist in my modern world?

Fast forward to present.  I don’t watch the news.  Call me irresponsible, call me out on my self-imposed bubble, but my heart can’t usually bench press the weight the news throws at me.

So admittedly I found out about Charlottesville through Lina Abujamra, a blogger I subscribe to.

As her words scrolled through my brain, my heart quickened and I found my fingers typing a search for news that would take my soul and stomach back to the horror of that red neck store and my shattered picture of humanity.  I watched a recap clip of the tragic events that was too short to convey the full story, yet somehow too long a moment to have to stare in the face of evil.

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

And I cried- not merely for the loss of life- not merely for those hurt and scarred- but because I’d naïvely allowed myself to believe that somehow we’d moved beyond such base actions.  Yes darkness seemed to have a choke-hold on the world, but weren’t we slowly getting better as a people?  As a nation?  Hadn’t the hard fought war for freedom for all changed not just our legislation but at long last our collective hearts?  At least a little?

We weren’t perfect in the “love your neighbor” department- no sir. And truthfully books like The New Jim Crow have opened my eyes to see that socially acceptable racism still exists even if overt racism is declining.  And I lament along with many of my ongoing complicity in such racist structures and beliefs, though I don’t always know how to perpetuate change.

But my stomach feels especially sick at the real-time use of the phrase “white supremacist” because I thought that language was buried deep within the pages of my history book.  Where has all this hatred been hiding? What is its origin?

I think back to the first recorded murder in the Bible, when Cain and his brother Abel walked with God.  Genesis says God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but not with Cain’s.  Such a simple sentence, but it was the catalyst for Cain to draw an irrevocable line. Cain’s pride was assaulted.  His sense of His worth and identity were thrown off and he was filled with anger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”  (Genesis 4:6-8)

Cain didn’t want to look at himself and his issues.  He’d rather draw an imaginary line between himself and his brother and cast the blame on the other side.  His frustrated desire for success? accolades? validation? swelled into lethal anger.

I picture myself for a moment as Eve, the boys’ mother.  Death was still fresh and ghastly, something not yet normal.  Did she crush under the fresh realization of what her disobedience in the Garden had cost her?  Even as she wept over a boy lost to death, did she cry bitter tears over the broken depths of her living son?  Did her own stomach churn at the horrible knowledge that creation from her womb had taken the life of creation…that brother could kill even brother?

Did she fall to the ground and ask God to forgive and to heal, to turn their hearts back to Him?  Did she realize with sobering horror, as I did, that she herself had the capacity for equally grave selfishness?

This week I’ve struggled with fresh revelation of my own brokenness- my own capacity to diminish, overlook, and cause pain.  How sobering to think that I’m simply not so different from the people on the other side of the line that I find myself drawing.  The righteous and unrighteous.  The sinner and the saint.  The peacemaker and the racist. The moral and the killer.  But my lines aren’t any more helpful than the lines others draw.

Because no matter what line we draw, don’t we always end up on the “right” side of it?  Isn’t the line somehow about ourselves?

At its core, racism is about elevating ourselves.  It’s the full-grown sin of seeking our own good and interests, of needing to validate ourselves at the expense of someone else.  It’s the desire to define ourselves AGAINST others- to be on the “right side” of the line of perceived power or beauty or significance.

But no such line exists.  Because God defines us and loves us not comparatively or based on who we are, but unconditionally based on who HE is.

There is no line.

So the powerful, so-called beautiful and self-imposed significant must create that line to maintain their self-worth.  In our insatiable pursuit of our own happiness and meaning we’re willing to diminish, abuse, and even kill their fellow creations…our brothers and sisters.

God fleshes this internal struggle out in His exhortation to Cain: “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must rule over it.”

James 1:14-15 puts it this way: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Our temptations feed broken desires that incubate sin which, in its ghastly full grown state, produces death of all kinds. We have to address those desires and the broken places they come from.  James 4:1-3 continues this thought:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

We’re so focused on ourselves.  Our desires and motives are so skewed by our selfish lens. On our desires and pleasures.  And I’m preaching to myself here, just so you know.

Yet God offers some powerful tools to subdue those very desires that try to destroy us.  Some of the most practical daily advice is simply to talk less and listen more:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Our anger, even our justified anger, apart from God’s heart simply makes things worse.  It leads to more human lines, more division, and less of the righteousness that God desires.

So what else do we do to find victory over those broken desires and places in our lives? Come to God with humility and acknowledge our broken deeds and desires.

James 4:7-10 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I’m not the first to suggest that this is a time to repent: to acknowledge the broken places of our hearts before God and before our brothers and sisters.  Time to turn inward and realize where our own selfish tendencies, unchecked, have left us to ignore and harm others.  It’s a time to repent of generations of evil perpetuated against whole groups of people.  It’s a time to listen to other people’s stories in such a way that our own hearts break over their struggle.

And it’s time to stop drawing lines that kill our brothers.

All Bible References from:
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Gray Expectations (Gray Faith Study Chapter 6)

One day I plan to write a whole book about how encountering God requires a constant surrender and reshaping of our expectations of Him.  But until then, I’ll keep it brief.  Whenever our expectations of God don’t align with the reality of who He is, we will be missing something.  We will be frustrated.  We will be running and grasping and wondering why our life isn’t going according to plan.  Our pain and suffering and unfulfilled prayers will try to tell us that our God isn’t good, didn’t show up, or doesn’t really love us.  But excruciating though it can be, surrendering even our most painful unmet expectations to God is like giving over control of the sculpting knife to the Master Artist and letting Him shape something beautiful.

I share in my book a little bit about my own type-1 diabetes and the ways God has used that to shape and alter my faith in surprisingly purposeful and pleasant ways.  (Though I wouldn’t choose it for myself!)  Even when it comes at great cost, I’m stubborn but slowly realizing I’d rather be stripped of my idols and comforts and see Him for the only thing I really need.  If He is my deepest expectation…my vision…my Hope…then I believe ultimately I have all that I need.

Check out this video to be encouraged and challenged, and then dig into the free Gray Faith study guide for chapter 6 below!

Puzzles and Expectations: Gray Faith Ch 6- “Gray Expectations”

Experiment #6- Part of experiencing the full life God wants means honestly giving Him our greatest disappointments, hurts, and fears. We have to get to a place where WHO God is outweighs the WHATS of our lives. I won’t pretend this is easy, and there isn’t a formula for getting there. But if we want to get to know someone better, sometimes asking a question is the best place to start. This week, tell God that you want to know Him better. Ask Him to show you through His Word something about Himself- part of who He is- that will meet you wherever you are at. Read the following verses and pray them for yourself this week:

Ephesians 1:17-19 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Chapter 6 Study Questions:

1. What does it look like to give God “an honest acknowledgement of struggle” instead of a “pretense of praise”?

2. What have been the “hard places” in your life? Have those places grown your faith or turned you away from God? Why?

3. Discuss your experience with God through prayer. Talk about your expectations, disappointments, and your level of honesty with God.

4. What does it look like to give up control and let God author your story? Is this idea scary or liberating for you?

5. Do you believe that God’s promises will keep you safe, thriving, and blessed? Use Scripture to explain why or why not.

6. How can we hold fast to God’s ultimate “good” promises when life doesn’t go as we want or expect? Can you believe in a good God when your circumstances are disappointing?

Bible passages for further reading:
Psalm 13 (David honest before God); Matthew 16:24-25 (Giving up to follow Christ); Romans 8:28 (He’s working for our good); John 16:33 (Jesus promises trouble/He overcomes);

Rethinking Evangelism (Gray Faith Ch 5: Gray Evangelism)

No matter what our cultural, ethnic, social, financial, whatever background, stories can connect us in a powerful way.  When someone has a similar story, our heart suddenly feels at home, knowing we’re not alone.  And when people have different experiences, stories are the bridge to help us understand each other better.  Your story has immense value.

And maybe “evangelism” isn’t quite so intimidating if we view it as the simple stories of our encounters with God, woven into our regular lives.  I’ll admit that most often I don’t know what to say or exactly how to say it, but maybe I need to stop looking for the perfect story and share my honest one.  Maybe you too.  Check out this week’s video below, then take some time to try the experiment or chapter 5 study questions on your own!


Experiment #5- Think about your life and the people you’ve shared your faith with. How does evangelism make you feel? If you’re like me, you may feel ashamed that you haven’t shared your faith story more often. Or, you might be someone who has shared your faith often, but you’ve struggled with whether your approach honors God. Ask God to identify one thing about how you share you faith that you can improve in. (If you’re stuck try praying about one of these: Listening better to others, being more sensitive to God’s Spirit, arguing less, having more confidence in sharing the story God’s given you, worrying less about having a “perfect” testimony, genuinely loving those you are sharing with, trusting the Spirit’s role in speaking to people, etc.) Just pick one thing. The next time you encounter someone and feel impressed to share part of your faith story, trust God to help you with that piece of evangelism He wants to grow you in.

Chapter 5 Study Questions:

1. What has influenced you to start following God, or to continue following Him?

2. Discuss the idea of conversion as a before and after experience. How can we emphasize God’s change in our lives without glossing over the reality of our ongoing struggles?

3. Do you feel confident sharing your faith outside of church? Discuss your fears or the reasons for your confidence.

4. How can the pressure to “evangelize” someone undermine the relational aspect of sharing the gospel?

6. A quote attributed to Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Some use this to suggest our actions should be speaking the gospel louder than our words. Others have said that this quote gives the false impression that using words to share the gospel isn’t that important. What does it mean for us to combine the power of our words and actions?

7. My parents once met a man from Africa who was a missionary to America. Does this surprise you? Use this as a springboard to discuss some of the unhealthy views we in America may have regarding mission work. Then discuss some of the positives of missions, perhaps from your own experience.

8. How can examining our view of evangelism and missions help us to love the world better?
Bible passages for further reading:
1 Peter 3:15 (Share faith with gentleness and respect); 1 Peter 2:12 (Live good lives among unbelievers); James 2:15-17 (action accompanies faith); Matthew 28:19-20 (Jesus commands us to share our faith); Romans 10:11-15 (Why we bring good news); Acts 2:42-47 (True godly community attracts others)


Do you feel like sharing your story?  You’ve come to the right place because I’d love to SHARE your story on one of my “Friend Post Friday” guest blog posts.  I have a guest-poster every fourth Friday of the month, so message me if you’d like to write something for this fall or winter!