The Great Pumpkin Thief

Yesterday my daughter’s 1st Grade class took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch.  She had been looking forward to this for weeks, literally counting down the days.  Being 7 is great!  There are such simple pleasures, like getting a day away from the classroom to take a school bus across town with all her friends.

Just look at this girl!

photo

The experience was everything she had hoped for, she was SO PROUD of and SO PLEASED with the pumpkin she picked out (there was NO green on this one, mama!) and even prouder that she could carry it by herself and got to go on a hayride with it.

Of course her younger brother’s class didn’t get this same field trip so after school we ran to a local pop up style ‘pumpkin patch’ set up down the road where he could pick one, too.

This boy has me wrapped around his finger.  Big time.

photo

As I set the pumpkins next to each other on our fireplace hearth when we got home, it was clear that Zachary’s was perfectly smooth and blemish-free all around, however Evangeline’s pumpkin had some scratches, dents, and a noticeable gauge on one side.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who noticed this.

Aaaannnddd so began the tears.

In between sobs I managed to discern some words about how Zachary’s pumpkin was so much better and perfect and hers was…not.  I could practically see in her eyes the contempt she had for that poor scratched-up pumpkin.

This is nothing new in my world.  The kids always seem to be wanting what the other one has (the purple plate, the bigger Lego set, the better stick found outside, and on and on it goes) . Many fights and tears and conversations have taken place around this issue.  It honestly makes me want to tear my hair out.

But this time I was struck in a new way.  My girl had SO MUCH  joy in her pumpkin – and now it was all gone.  And I was not okay with that, I grieved for her and her heart.  Something had been stolen and I wanted to get it back.

So I sat down, pulled her in my lap and told her a story.  A story about how mommy LOVES leading bible studies and teaching God’s word.  It brings me joy, it brings me pleasure, it brings me purpose.  I love the men and women I have gotten to serve through this act and the ways God has ministered to them through it.  But one time (okay more than one time, but I didn’t tell Evie that…) I started noticing another woman – who also was a writer and teacher and leader -who seemed to do everything better than me.  More creatively, more powerfully, more impactfully and in cuter clothes than me.  When glancing down at my own work, all of a sudden what was in my hands appeared dull and hollow and small.  Like dents on a pumpkin.

I painted a picture for my daughter of how comparison, dressed all in black to be an extra sneaky burglar, broke into my heart and stole something from me.  He stole my joy and the love that I had for the work in front of me.   My work hadn’t changed.  I hadn’t changed.  The only thing that had changed was the presence of comparison.  And that changed everything.

Remember how much fun your field trip was, Evangeline?  Remember the hard work of traipsing through a field?  Remember how there were lots to choose from, but you picked just the right one?  Remember how you carried it around with your classmates? Remember how excited you were to show it to me when I picked you up from school?   Girl, that is YOUR pumpkin!

She remembered, I could see it in her eyes (I love when my parenting talks actually work!)

Zachary’s pumpkin doesn’t change ANY of that, don’t let comparison steal your joy.  

She sprang up from my lap and after heading over to the fireplace she knelt down and draped her arms dramatically around her pumpkin, looking as if she never wanted to be separated from that thing ever again.

resized_20161021_075340

She remembered her first love.  Well, her first pumpkin, anyways.

Whether it is my work, my abilities, my kids, my appearances, my car, my home, my bank account – I am often times perfectly satisfied….that is until my eyes wander over and see an image presented of someone else’s work, ability, kids, appearance, car, home or bank account. I swear I have been tempted to trade in my own personality.   And I begin to feel contempt for what I have and what I have to offer.  So measly and meager my life becomes in just a moment!   I have to remind myself of the same things I reminded my girl.

And I know that for a long time whenever comparison is threatening to rob me blind, I will remember the innocent joy and pride on Evangeline’s face when I picked her up from school yesterday, holding her flawed but beautiful pumpkin.

comparison

I also want to remember the way she repentantly embraced that precious pumpkin on the fireplace, remembering that while what I have may be different from what someone else has, it is mine.  It is what I chose, or what God has chosen on my behalf.  It is mine to use and to treasure and to enjoy.  I too want to hold these things close, draping my arms around them just as dramatically as my daughter, filled with thanksgiving.

Lean In Chapter 9: The Myth of Doing it All

I was recently (self) assigned the task of three-hole punching 30 separate stacks of 43 page documents.  If you know anything about the fabulous world of hole punchers, you know that there is no way on God’s green earth that you can successfully punch a stack of 43 pages at a time.    I had to divide each stack into smaller stacks that wouldn’t make the Kinko’s equipment explode or leave me cursing bits of mangled paper.  When all the hole punching was done (Glory be to God!), it was now time for the yanking and pulling involved in fitting my papers into those STUPID LITTLE METAL BRADS of a pocket folder.  All of this really isn’t’ that big of a deal except for one little detail I haven’t included:  my four year old insisted on helping me.

Trust me, I tried my best to distract him with mind-numbing iPad games, but he insisted.

Halfway through this process, right about the time I was ready to chuck the hole puncher through a window, my son looked up at me and exclaimed excitedly “Thank you mommy!!!”.

“For what?”  I asked.

“For letting me help! ” he replied with a sweet little grin on his face.   A grin that is usually reserved for chocolate milk or an extra TV show.

Getting to assist mommy in one of her real, live grown-up tasks with actual grown-up tools (a three hole punch is TOTALLY a tool) was meaningful for him, on par with sugary treats.

Participation is one of the greatest gifts God gives to us.   And not just made-up tasks like I sometimes give to my four year old to make him feel special (or um, get him out of my hair…), but real, meaningful, actual purposeful participation.   I had to take several deep breaths and say a few prayers for patience as my little guy was helping me because I didn’t really want his help.  I wanted to do it myself so I could do it right and do it fast.  (that’s sort of my life motto, actually).

But God is so unique.  He gives us a desire, so that he can fill it.   God builds into our identity a desire to participate and then gives us the invitation, the green light, the tools and the power.  Even when I make big mistakes.  Even when I take forever.  Even when He could do a better job without me muddling it all up.

Sheryl Sandberg’s ninth chapter The Myth of Doing it All is an honest look at what happens to our neat, ordered lives when we dare to participate.   Hint:  it’s messy.  And she doesn’t sugar coat what her life looks like and I really appreciated that.  She shared some honest-to-goodness humiliating, difficult stories from her own life as a wife, mum and career woman.

Perhaps the part that stood out to me the most, because it rang the most true for my life, was when she shared from the wonderful and talented Tina Fey from personal interviews as well as Fey’s AWESOME book Bossypants.

Tina Fey noted that when she was promoting the movie Date Night with Steve Carell, a father of two and star of his own sitcom, reporters would grill Fey on how she balances her life, but never posed that question to her male costar

Sandberg elaborates..

Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we’re shortchanging both our jobs and our children.

I wish I could say she was exaggerating.  I recently started a new job and I have noticed a sudden and overwhelming concern that others have for the balance in my life .  While I know it is because people care about me and this is how they are expressing that care and it’s possible my insecurities are simply at play, it triggers a deeper and more defensive emotional response, especially because not once has anyone expressed concern to my husband over how he balances having a wife, two kids, a full time ministry job and serving a church.

It’s easy to feel a bit backed into a corner when balancing is your life’s goal.

Melinda Marshall writes in Good Enough Mothers about the experience of working mothers,

This is called juggling, an apt term since it implies that all the balls must be kept in the air and the juggler can never rest – she is doomed in fact to keep everything in perpetual motion without ever having the satisfaction of getting somewhere or finishing something.  Should the juggler tire, or relax her concentration the act culminates in failure:  the audience pays attention to the juggler only as long as she defies the inevitable.

This sets me, and other women from Tina Fey to my best friends, up for nothing but failure and cultivates a spirit of fear over that perceived failure.  Typically men who are in a stressful season at work, who also have to come home and spend time with the kids and do the yard work aren’t questioned at all – that’s just life!  However a woman will typically get a different response.    Fey writes in Bossy Pants

“The worst question (for a woman) is ‘How do you juggle it all?… People constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes.  ‘Your screwing it all up, aren’t you?’ their eyes say.

More than I fear dropping any proverbial ball in my life, I fear that others are waiting in the wings for it to happen, with “I told you so” lingering on their lips and in their eyes.  

Sandberg goes on to share struggles of maternity leave (I flunked Maternity Leave 101 so this one I totally related to!), the American culture of working around the clock and the agonizing decisions over prioritizing; noting that some things HAVE TO give.  If I attend this work meeting, I can’t attend this ballet class.   If I am a working mom, I can’t volunteer in the classroom.  If I am a stay at home mom, I miss out on opportunities, income and perhaps deeper fulfillment.   If yes to this, than no to that.

In her book “Gifted to Lead” Nancy Beach (who is executive vice president for the arts for the Willow Creek Association) addresses the Myth of Having it All and speaks a good truth that is also echoed a bit in Sandberg’s chapter to a lesser degree and that is:

Yes you can have it all, but not all at once!

This has been a mantra for me and some of the most freeing advice I have received.

I have told this to myself at least once a year since having kids.  I can have it all, but not all at once!  My life as a mother is so very seasonal and while it is not the only Participation that I am invited into , it is a substantial piece of the pie.

God invites us to full participation but as we follow him I can’t say the word ‘balance’ or ‘having it all’ really reflect a life of following Jesus.  Sometimes God leads us girls to abandon our careers to stay home full time with our children.  This is real, important participation – not a move of failure for having to let one of the balls drop.  The life of a Christ follower is a life of WORSHIP and a life of FREEDOM which are so powerful that they squeeze out any silly notions of balance or juggling.   Balance and juggling are for circus clowns, not for women, thank you very much.

A result of getting older (mid thirties baby!!!), having children, and listening to God is gaining a better sense of when to say yes, and when to say no – without any guilt attached.  So yes, having it all is indeed a myth as the great cloud of witnesses of Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg and Nancy Beach will attest to, in the sense that we cannot be in two places at once, we cannot add hours to our days and are limited to our two hands, two feet and one brain.

But life in the Kingdom of God, that glorious upside down Kingdom, has even better news.   We actually can have it all, God just redefines what “it all” means.

We can have

 1.   Full Participation.  Not balanced participation.  Not unattainable participation.  Instead, Holy Participation.  Whether this participation is as a full time stay at home mom, or full time mom with a 40 hour work week – we are participating with God, for God.  The Creator isn’t so tied down by definitions, schedules or what the world would deem as valuable and that’s good news to us.  Full participation means we have meaningful, actual work to do.  If juggling is for the clowns, than participation is for the saints.

2.  Freedom from comparison.    Lots of crappy stuff happens to women simply because we are  women.  But ladies, a lot of our problems come from how we relate to each other.    Jen Hatmaker says in For the Love:  Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

“The trouble is, we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it. We register their beautiful yards, homemade green chile enchiladas, themed birthday parties, eight-week Bible study series, chore charts, ab routines, “10 Tips for a Happy Marriage,” career best practices, volunteer work, and Family Fun Night ideas. We make note of their achievements, cataloging their successes and observing their talents. Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane.”

If our definition of “having it all” is being awesome at everything simply because we think it is expected of us, or because we assume other women are awesome at everything, we are drowning from the get go.  I have since given up on being Crafty Pinterest Mom (or the mom with the best abs).  Life is better over here.  

3.  Everything our hearts could possibly want… as God refines our hearts.  We have purpose, we have intimacy with our brothers and sisters and with God above.  We have a Holy Spirit of power and conviction and comfort.  We have unspeakable joy, unexplainable peace and unbelievable hope.  We have forgiveness of sins and new songs to sing every day.  Let’s allow those truths to reign in our weeks a little more than an unattainable standard of balance.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.  Ephesians 2 (The Message)

 

 

Lean In, Chapter One: The Leadership Ambition Gap

I am pretty sure I have the best husband around.  I could go on and on about what a catch he is, his outstanding character, and how well he treats me.  One of the little things is that he tells me that I am beautiful a lot.  (We could go down a rabbit’s trail about WHY I need to be told this so often, but that is fodder for another blog.)  I, like most women, have days where I feel fabulous and days where I feel fat and frumpy and days in between and maybe I am just vain but I like hearing that I am beautiful.  It feels good.  It doesn’t always feel true, but I am glad my husband sees me that way.

A couple of weeks ago my husband sent me a text affirming once again that that he thinks I am beautiful but in that same text message he also called me intelligent.

Intelligent.

And that got me, right in the gut, in a deep and important way.  Being told I am beautiful feels good, and I am always thankful for those words -possibly because it is demanded and expected of me as a woman..ahh!  sorry! rabbit trail! – but being told I am intelligent really meant something.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s opening chapter of Lean In she sets up her case about how… SPOILER ALERT..men and women are treated differently, and she shares some interesting statistical and anecdotal evidence, including a story about a popular children’s clothing store selling onesies to baby boys proclaiming “Smart like Daddy” and onesies to baby girls proclaiming “Pretty like Mommy”.

After getting that text from Jon let me tell you I wanted to zoom over to Hobby Lobby for some puffy paint and make my daughter a shirt loudly proclaiming “Smart like Mommy!”

When questioning why women, who are beautiful and competent and SMART! don’t pursue their careers and callings in the same way as men, Sandberg acknowledges that it is not due to a lack of internal ambition or even inherent biological gender differences, but rather it is fear.

Fear that is only perpetuated and bolstered by society in both:

Blatant ways like sweet tiny baby onesies, pay inequality, poor childcare options, and poor maternity leave options.

and more subtle ways as well.  One that I never considered before was how working women are stereotyped in the media by these two extremes: the soul-less robot in pumps who can’t prioritize a personal life – she gives the example of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, contrasted with a frazzled, guilt-laden woman letting everyone down – giving the example of Sarah Jessica Parker in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It.

While I don’t completely agree with society-perpetuated fear being the only factor, as I do think that women and men are…SPOILER ALERT…different, it is true that fear absolutely clobbers women from both sides – from the side of ‘having it all’ and from the side of ‘losing it all’.   Sandberg words it like this:

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face.  Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

Naturally as I was reading this chapter, which was excellent and covered many great points, I filtered it through my own experiences and my own biblical worldview, which obviously differs from that of a non-Christian woman in the business world.

I don’t aspire to work 40 hours a week (at this point in my life).  I don’t aspire to wear a power suit and heels.  I don’t aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  But one of the (many!) ambitions I have is to attend seminary.  There I said it!  But as soon as the words are typed here on the screen, wouldn’t you know it, that fear creeps in.

Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure.  And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

The fear is present.  The ambition is present.  Society is present. The Bible is present.  My heart is present.  So many factors and layers in how we live our lives!  Here are some of my thoughts:

The first is this:   We can be free from fear as we make decisions, as we seek God’s will with wisdom, humility and love.  God will shape us as we give ourselves more and more to Him.  Growing up I had neither the ambition to attend grad school, seminary, nor the ambition to be a stay at home mom.  God has changed me, a little bit here and there, each time I said ‘yes’ to Him.  But I also screw up a lot and still have many values in my heart that push against Kingdom Values.  What our hours look like from day to day can vary, and how I spend those hours will have good and bad consequences – but hopefully as I grow in Christ my fears of what others think and what ‘might happen’ will diminish.

The second is that I seek to Glorify God and serve others first.  Sometimes even though I want to sit and write a blog,  I end up folding the laundry because it really serves my husband when he doesn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt just to find a clean under shirt.   Although my family supports me and my ambitions, I am not accountable only to myself.  The best decision for us might be for me to work more, or work less or go back to school – but although they are MY ambitions and MY dreams and MY work – I am not queen of my own island, and I am definitely not God, and believe it or not I need to be reminded of that, frequently and gently.

Lean In gets into some nitty gritty with marriage and family dynamics, pay equity, career moves and the myth of “having it all” in the chapters that follow, but this initial part simply asks the broad but important question,

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Have you read this chapter?  What are your thoughts?

Leaning in…and leaning back

When Zachary was a mere six weeks old I found myself sitting in an over air-conditioned hotel meeting room for a work conference.   I was trying SO HARD to care about whatever ministry strategy was on the table. But you know, my milk supply was all over the place (quite literally, sorry for that TMI), I was still recovering from some issues with my c-section and of course I was exhausted and most of all longing to be cuddling my sweet newborn who was at that time being attended to a few floors up in the childcare center.

Several months later I found myself facilitating a meeting with a bunch of college-aged leaders, with that same baby boy fighting sleep in the other room in a pack and play.  I was 4 months into sleep deprivation, a hormonal wreck, and having to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom, then wipe my eyes and return to lead a bible study.

WHAT ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH  WAS I THINKING??? 

It was a hard season of life.

But honestly, a lot of the time I was okay with how hard it was. Really!  I loved what I was doing, my husband and I were working together at home and on campus and sometimes ‘hard’ means that you are doing things right.  Actually, I am a firm believer in life being hard, specifically the Christian Life.  All that love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control business can sound so sweet and fluffy and…easy.

Every Christian who has been around the block a few times is now rolling on the floor laughing at such a ludicrous idea.

A life of following Jesus can involve grueling works of death and obedience and submission, being pruned and disciplined and refined by fire.  The Kingdom of God is glorious, but giving up self, giving up comfort, giving up rights, giving up idols can be downright painful.

So when life suddenly involved some frazzled meetings and bathroom cry sessions and sneaking out early to nurse a newborn and master juggling – on a certain level I simply embraced it full on.

But then, one day, I just couldn’t any more.  So I quit.  I drew back.  Peace out!  I’m stayin’ home with my babies!

I like to think that my adulthood has been an exciting and ever-changing journey as my passions have grown, spiritual gifts have been revealed, babies have been born and our family needs have changed.  I have taught Spanish in person to college students and middle school students, as well as on-line.  I have done vocational ministry and volunteer ministry and no ministry.  Every year that Jon and I have been married has looked different for me – and I have loved it.

I recently read devoured Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In:  Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

If Sandberg’s term for showing up, embracing, leading and working as a woman is “Leaning in”, then I am most definitely in a season of  “Leaning back”.  Waaaayyy Back.

I found myself alternately nodding vigorously in unified agreement with this amazing COO of Facebook, and pushing back on some of her ideas and premises – and woven through it all were my own experiences as a woman who feels strongly about her purposes in the world along with my own theology (Lean In is most definitely a secular book).

So, because I seem to have ALL THE THOUGHTS about the content of this book I have decided to do a chapter by chapter review here on the ol’ blog based on my own stories, experiences and view of God, women and work.  This is also a way for me to Lean In during this season of Leaning Back – life is not so cut and dry, is it?!  I’d like to develop my writing and I have wanted to try doing a series to force some commitment and discipline in on my part 😉

If you have read Lean In (or would like to) or simply want to follow along, I would love to hear your thoughts (regardless of your gender or religious beliefs)!

Chapter One asks the question “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.  The immediate image that comes to my mind is Pandora’s Box being opened in my heart – this should be interesting!

Deserved

My family and I are leaving for a Florida vacation in a few short days.  The Magic Kingdom, airplanes, Mickey Mouse, the ocean – the whole enchilada.

It’s a pretty big deal and my excitement over escaping the hot Tucson dirt for some ocean breezes might even surpass my daughter’s excitement over getting to have dinner with a bunch of Disney Princesses.

But let me tell you (just in case you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear these words in a real life conversation yet) what is happening EVERY SINGLE TIME I share with someone about this upcoming vacation.  I, almost mandatorily, interject that my parents are paying for it.  Because they are.  My parents have generously planned for and paid for this amazing adventure – plane tickets, Disney World tickets, meals with princesses and a beautiful beach house.  The whole enchilada.  

I am beyond grateful, truly.  But seriously, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

It’s like I can’t just say “We’re taking a vacation!”…

…because we want to.

… because that is what American families do.

…because we work a lot and need a break and an ocean breeze on our faces.

…because Cinderella and It’s a Small World and Sand Castles!!!!

…because…we deserve it?

I don’t force this detail of my parents’  generosity upon people to give mom and dad credit.  I do it because I am worried what people will think.  I am worried we don’t actually deserve it.

I am worried that what you are really thinking when I tell you we are headed to Florida for fun and sun is “Wow, aren’t they supposed to be missionaries?”  or “Wow, maybe that is a bit too extravagant for them”  “Wow, is THAT where my $50/month is going?”  (apparently I think people say “wow” a lot in their internal monologues…)

We are a family in ministry.  We raise (okay fine, Jon raises…) our salary and benefits from individual ministry partners (i.e. your money).  Somewhere, somehow, the idea has entered my belief system that because we are in ministry, because we are acostumed to a certain lifestyle of financial restraint, because of how we get a paycheck- we don’t deserve a vacation.  At least not one that involves airfare and Disney and beaches.

For some reason that’s okay for other people, but not for us.

Money, since realizing I married a man who is committed to ministry and since realizing I follow a Jesus who means what he says about all those dollar bills – has become a really big deal in my life.  I think about it a lot.  I do without it a lot.  When we have extra of it, I spend it irresponsibly a lot and hence feel guilty about it a lot.  It’s a big deal.  I’ve written on money here before because time after time it finds it’s way into my heart.

I have COMPLICATED feelings about my money and other peoples’ money.

But right now I mainly just feel like I don’t deserve a sweet vacation.

Like what we Phillips Family should have is a summer in the hot dusty desert and just grin and bear it.

So, when you ask me if I have plans for the summer, and I awkwardly rattle off how we are going to Disney World and The Most Awesome Beach House  but it’sokaybecausemyparentsarepayingforitnotus…

…it’s my shame talking (certainly nothing anyone has ever said to me!)

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel like we don’t have enough.

It’s shame over the many moments when I feel sick over my extreme wealth.

It’s shame, simple as that.

I’m not sure if I “deserve” an awesome vacation.  But I have one coming to me and I would like to enjoy it, I would like for my kids to enjoy it.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve a kind and gentle Savior, but I got one and I like to enjoy him, too.  I got Him, plus the Holy Spirit, plus a lot of really cool things like spiritual gifts and family and love and joy and peace.  The whole enchilada.  

So if in the next few days I instead of just telling you what our month of June looks like, I give you an itemized bill and show you what exactly we paid for all this, please just be patient with me.

Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad!

Sometimes life here in the Kingdom of God can look a lot like hot, dusty Tucson and grin and bear it.

But, this summer the Kingdom of God looks like having the whole enchilada and eating it too, with some ocean breezes and – hopefully for the sake of my four year old daughter – a picture with Elsa and Anna.

The Safe Place

That soul care retreat (you know, the one that was making me want to throw up a little) just finished and as is the case with so many retreats and camps and mountain-top experiences there is a re-entry that has to happen.  A decision.  An application.  A step forward.  A testing.

And all of that is happening.  Maybe. 

The message of APPLY!  APPLY!  FIX!  FIX!  DO!  DO!  is most definitely screaming at me.  In ALL CAPS!

In the moments before embarking on the 5 miles across town for this retreat I felt the weight of just how dangerous this could be for me and my spirit rebelled – fight or flight.  Being holed-up with a handful of others for 10 hour days while we laid bare all that was above and all that was beneath.   All that haunted, all that ached.

“This is NOT a safe place” the voice cried to me, pleading with me to resist.

Why would I share with you?

Why should I share with you?

Sister

Brother

Why?

I don’t know you.

I don’t trust you.

Sister.

Brother.

You don’t know me.

You don’t trust me.

Sister

Brother

But somehow it happened.   I spoke one word.  And then another.  And another.

I cried one tear.  And then another.  And another.

I received timidly.  And then eagerly.  And hungrily.

Jesus came in gentleness.  And then power.  And then beauty.

Will you love me?

Brother

Sister

Will you pray for me?

Brother

Sister

Will you hold me?

Brother

Sister

And suddenly, now that I am left to the Real World to APPLY and FIX and MOVE FORWARD and TAKE WHAT I LEARNED, that formerly frightening place of extreme intimacy, where my soul was laid bare and my words meant something has actually morphed, to become  the Safe Place I long for.

The community of Christ.

Where love looks nothing like flattery or happy smiles or perfectly manicured gardens.

Sister

Brother

And we look into each others eyes with truth and compassion and shared brokenness and shared healing.

Where are you, shame?

Where are you, fear?

Where are you, darkness?

Where are you condemnation?

Not here, not in this Safe Place.

But now, here, off the mountain top, where laying my soul bare isn’t always invited, where time for sitting with Jesus isn’t easily blocked out, where space for damage to meet healing just doesn’t happen – THIS is the dangerous place.

FINE is the dangerous place.

DISTRACTION is the dangerous place.

COPING is the dangerous place.

SISTER and BROTHER, in appearances only, is the dangerous place.

Can we draw the intimacy out of and away from the retreat, away from the mountain top?

Can we draw it so strongly toward Sunday Morning and lunch dates and phone calls and small groups so that these dangerous buildings of Fine and Cope and Arms Length change to become not just a Safe Place, but perhaps the very safest of all?

Too Much

A repost from 2013

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

You know that sound a rope makes when it is stretched too tight?  That creaky sound of too much tension.

These nets of Peter’s were created to catch fish.  His fishing boats were constructed to stay afloat. There is an expectancy of normal wear and tear over the years, but what was happening here was beyond that.This was too much fish.

This miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5 was rough on Peter’s stuff.  When Jesus stepped into his boat, when he asked Peter to put out to the deep, when he requested that these veteran fishermen cast their nets over the edge, and when he invited them to become fishers of men and to follow Him, He was inviting his disciples to a life spent, a life that might be rough on them.

Nets torn.

Boat sinking.

Sandals worn.

Body broken.

Jesus calls me to this life as well.  My home, my possessions, my spiritual gifts, my talents, my words are not to be saved, hoarded or preserved.  They are meant to be offered up, spent, even if that means my stuff might get ruined. 

Even if it seems like too much.

Ultimately having his nets broken and his boat flooded with water were nothing compared to witnessing this miraculous catch of fish, to having his Savior revealed before his very eyes.  “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”.

My body is being worn and torn through motherhood and that is okay.

My house is not a monument to be enshrined but a refuge for those needing a home cooked meal.

He is giving me the opportunity to release all that I have in my hands to be used for His Glory.

I shall not be sorry over broken dishes, back aches, stretch marks, small bank accounts, worn carpeting, or a spent soul weary from ministering to others – for there are great and miraculous and holy things to be seen and experienced.

There is no such thing as too much love, too many sons and daughters returning to The Father, too much patience, too many prayer meetings or too many trips to the laundry room.  Although my earthly body, earthly home and earthly perspectives may not hold up very well, although I can hear that high pitched creaking of ropes stretching under too much tension, the words of Jesus are the same:  Follow Me. In that invitation are hard things, but also rest, peace, love, hope, faith, miracles, power and a whole lot of adventure.

Are there nets breaking in your life right now?  What is Jesus’ invitation to you in the mist of this?

The Matriarchs

You know the ones.

That woman in church you have seen, but never spoken to.  That woman who raised you.  That woman who taught you.  That woman who blessed you. That woman who organized.  That woman who prayed.  That woman who showed up. That woman who sings. That woman who leads.

They are everywhere.

Some have gray hair, some don’t.

Some wear funky jewelry, others show up in comfortable shoes.

Some are waving good-bye to sons and daughters flying from the nest.  Some are glowing as they hold their grandchildren.

Some sit next to me in church, others are a plane ride away.

They are all lovely. 

Their strength is tried and true.  So are their recipes.

They have been praying and serving and rolling up their sleeves for longer than I have been alive.

They are clan leaders.  They are mothers.  They are pillars.  They are oak trees.

The Matriarchs. 

They have gone before me and lead me and teach me.

Firm.  Planted.  Unwavering.  Dedicated.  Wise.

Yet, their years have given to them a softness, an understanding, a confidence and a quietness that allows them to move with ease.

And they allow me to lead.

They give me a place.

They let me try my own recipes in the kitchen, happy to assist.

They throw me a knowing smile when my children misbehave in church.

They listen patiently.

They answer my phone calls.

They invite me over.

They share their lives, open books still being written, and I hang on with rapt attention to every word.

When I am amongst them, I am amongst giants.

As I parent, as I lead, as I pray, as I live, as I timidly put one foot in front of the other, unsure if the next step is the right one, they surround me.

(un)Professional

The other day I found myself cruising through Tucson with the windows down, jamming to Justin Timberlake Sexy/Back from behind the steering wheel, rocking my aviator sun glasses and just feeling SO. DARN. COOL.  After all, I was wearing skinny jeans.

If you had asked me how old I was I SWEAR I would have said 22. Long blond hair blowing in the wind.  I had peace, I had passion and I had ENERGY (like the real kind, not the kind you get from inhaling coffee) back when I was 22. 

I pulled to a stop at Broadway and Craycroft and caught my reflection in a pick up truck next to me.

And friends I’m sorry, and honestly a bit surprised, to say I didn’t see 22.  I didn’t see youth. I didn’t see cool. I didn’t see carefree.  I didn’t see long blond hair blowing in the breeze.

I saw two kids in the back of a grey Ford Taurus.

I saw mascara that was sloppily applied because I was trying to keep little hands out of the toilet.  I felt the stretch marks left on my skin that will probably always remain even if I try to cover them up with skinny jeans.  I saw a pony tail, and the circles under my eyes. I saw moves and miscarriages and mortgage payments and mishaps and I saw weekly cleanings and 3,650 dinners cooked.

And I felt deceived. 

This week I am speaking at the University (I am not a “staff” speaker this week, I am a “guest” speaker.  Sounds pretty impressive, huh?) and even though it hasn’t been very long since I left campus ministry work it feels like a world away.  It feels like the difference between 22 and 32.

I have maintained my writing here on my blog but on Thursday night I will have to remember how to put my voice, my female voice with a lingering midwest accent, to those written words.

And I’ll stand up there, most definitely wearing my skinny jeans so that those kids think I’m hip, but when I see my reflection in the windows of the Student Union I fear I might just see a mom playing dress up.

I don't always preach

I fear that I will see a woman who spends her hours trying to negotiate with a 4 year old and has to change her shirt three times a day because it got covered in poop and dirt and peanut butter, not one who has been to seminary or even has a spare minute to read a heavy theology book.

I fear I will see someone unqualified and unprofessional.

Actually, I fear that I am unqualified and unprofessional.

Who am I?

Who am I Lord, to go before Pharaoh?

Who am I Lord, to carry the Christ child?

Who am I Lord to be the Rock upon which your Church is built?

Who am I Lord?

What have I to offer to anyone?

Those reflections I catch of myself don’t lie. 

I’m not 22, I am 32.

I am wearing a different shirt because my littles dirtied the first one up.

I do spend lots and lots of hours in the kitchen and spend lots of lots of days in yoga pants.

I do haul kids around in my gray ford taurus.

I am just a woman.

I am just a mom.

No, those reflections don’t lie, but they do deceive. 

That extra decade has been a decade full of trusting God and seeking Wisdom and becoming more like His Son.

Those skinny jeans were a gift from a BFF because she wanted me to feel great about myself, I wear them with the pride not because I look like I’m 22 but because I have been blessed with people who love me.

Those meals filled us.

Those peanut-butter covered hands are the hands of my son, whom God has given to me to love and raise into a young man.

And those yoga pants are just really damn comfy.

And none of these things disqualify me.

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep

So yes Jesus, I will try to feed your sheep, whichever sheep you send my way.

I will feed them at home and at church and around town and, this Thursday, on campus.

I will feed them your Word and I will feed them pasta dishes when they bring home their newborn babies.

I will feed them in yoga pants and I will feed them in skinny jeans.

I will feed them not because I have a seminary degree hanging on my wall or a fancy suit or youth or energy or because I am a professional.

I will feed them because I love you, and because you first loved me.

Both Hands

“That is NEVER going to be me” I say to myself while perusing some of my favorite blogs on Tuesday night.  “I am NEVER going to write a book.  I am NEVER going to speak at a conference.  No, not me.   I am going to sit on this couch and just peek through a crack in the window to occasionally catch a glimpse at what other women, real women, talented women are doing for Jesus while I remain here in my little, insignificant life in which I can’t even get my two children to behave”

Insert:  90’s Jennifer Knapp Christian-angst music and a bar of chocolate.

When Jon is working nights I love taking time to read the voices of other women who are passionate and gifted and funny and Godly but for some reason tonight I noticed a commonality amongst the several sites I visited that poked annoyingly at a painful place deep within. Not only are these women passionate and gifted and funny and Godly but they are also published.  And on speaking schedules.  And raising more kids than me.  And apparently living in a world in which there are more than 24 hours in each day.  (Oh, and gorgeous – because this really couldn’t be a legit female-comparison blog post without talking about body image, right?)

All of a sudden these writers, these women, with whom at one point I felt a sense of sisterhood, seemed far away and foreign and secluded in their own club that I wasn’t invited to.  The Successful Christian Woman’s Club.  Or something.

Me?  I am a card carrying member of the  “all-alone-in-my-pajamas-by-8:30-sitting-on-a-couch-surfing-the-internet-and-crying-while-listening-to-Jennifer Knapp-doing-nothing-of-value-with-my-life -club”.  My club doesn’t even have a coherent name.  Waaaahhhh.

For a lot of my adult years, when telling Jesus that he can have my life what I mean, at least partially, is Hey Lord take diligent notes while I give you my ideas on how this suits me best.  Thanks.

In the past this has been holding on to sin with one hand while trying to hold on to Jesus with the other.

Then it was holding on to security blankets with one hand, and to Jesus with the other.

Lately it has been holding on to success with one hand, and to Jesus with the other.

But for all of my hand-holding, I just can’t see success in my life, at least not on this Tuesday night (alright, it’s entirely possible that a flooded bathroom, a surprise pimple and some good old fashioned hormones were at play here. It’s okay.  Jesus meets me on the mountain top, and he pulls me out of the pit, amen?)

On this particular Tuesday night I just can’t see what I think I should see from my 32 years.

I can, however, see the many accomplishments and talents of other women.

I can feel my two year old hitting me all day.

I can see my three year old acting like an angry teenager.

I can remember that girl I didn’t disciple well.

I can read all the words I wish I had written, but in fact they belong to someone else.

I can inherit the legacy of women before me, but sometimes my choices look so different from theirs that I wonder what those that come after me will be left with.

I know what I see, and what I don’t see.

God what do you see?

As I turned down my music and exhaled all my pride and insecurity for the Lord to gather up and make new and make holy and make light I prayed for wisdom and vision.

God, what do you see?

What do you feel? What do you hear?  What do you have for me to write?  What do you have for me to inherit?  What do you have for me to pass on?

He answered all my questions, and spoke to my need for success and affirmation, in this way: by tenderly taking my clenched fist and, one finger at a time, carefully unwrapping it from that heavy suitcase (full of book deals and perfectly groomed children) I have been lugging around.

Just as I couldn’t make it work holding on to sin with my left, and Jesus with my right – nor can I hold on to anything, success included, while fully following Jesus.

The Lord wants both of my hands clinging to his robe for healing.  The Lord wants both my hands raised high in worship.  King Jesus wants both of my hands open, palms up, so that I might receive the bread he has for me to feast on.