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!

Thorn of Crowns

This is about as crafty as I get, friends.  A foam ring and some tooth picks.

-2

I saw this idea on another site and thought we would try it.  Beginning at Lent, every night at dinner, Evangeline would remind us to get out our “Thorn of Crowns” and then we would proceed to go around the table and each stick a single toothpick in to symbolize a sin from that day.

Remembering and Confessing.

Sometimes they came to mind quite quickly and I probably could have used a good 5-10 toothpicks, other days I had to rack my brain (or get friendly reminders from my family).

Even with skipping a few nights, it didn’t take long for this crown to be difficult to handle.

If you grabbed for it the wrong way you would get pricked, and the closer to Easter we got the more dangerous the crown became and we actually had to keep it up away, out of the kids’ reach, lest a lenten stabbing occur.

Sharp, prickly, dangerous, damaging.  Our sin. 

But the toothpicks just kept accumulating.  More and more. Our sin. 

We placed our final toothpick in on that Good Friday night and remembered.

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Our sin. 

This morning, Easter morning, the kids woke up to something new on the crown.

-3

 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!

Today has been a bummer of an Easter.  Fevers have kept us from church and family.  Spiffy spring dresses lost out to pajamas.  Tylenol and VaporRub bring more comfort than brunch and none of us can stop coughing long enough to get through a hymn.

But while Christ wore a Crown of Thorns, we wear forgiveness.

Toothpicks have been thrown in the trash, New Life has come.

Although sickness plagues our home, death has lost it’s sting.

And, I feel like supermom for actually starting and finishing a project with my kids.  That’s worth something, right?

Happy Easter!

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?

Christmas Peace: God’s consistency, my response

Trader Joe’s was absolutely packed, being just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, nevertheless I simply HAD to get some double cream brie (cheese is important to me) and so there we were.  I was determined to get in and out as quickly as possible with my 2 and 4 year old in tow.

“In and out” isn’t always an easy task.

There was the time my daughter climbed on the cart, with my son sitting inside, and pulled it down on top of her, nearly injuring both.

There was the time I had to drag a screaming 3 year old out of Target and spend 10 minutes man-handling her into the car seat as she thrashed about. 

There were all those moments of grabbing stuff off the shelves, whining for treats, and colliding into other shoppers.

Thankfully, things were going smoothly when an older woman approached me.  Actually, she startled me by touching my arm.

“Your kids behave so well” she proclaimed. “What wonderful children!”

I began to mumble something about it not being the norm and you should have seen us this one time at Target… but she wouldn’t allow me to speak, and actually interrupted me instead.

This woman looked me strait in the eye, and I held her gaze, and she said to me slowly, giving each word weight and significance as her hand remained on my arm.

“You are doing a great job”.

And so I did what any rational woman would do in the middle of the grocery store upon hearing these golden words, I started crying.

“Thank you” I said through my tears, still looking into her understanding, older, wiser, ‘been there done that” eyes.

She carried on with her business and I moved my children along the aisle and we finished up.

The kids had in fact behaved magnificently that day.

So had I. 

It was one of those days where I felt like I was successful in engaging and directing, having managed to put on my Patient Mommy Pants that morning.

Instead of, you know, my Yelling Mommy Pants or my Lazy Mommy Pants or my Exhausted Mommy Pants or my Distracted Mommy Pants.

It’s not a perfect correlation, but I am always surprised at how much my mood, my tone, my approach and my actions can determine how the kids behave.

Try not to be shocked, but my children don’t just mindlessly obey me (Oh I wish this were true some days.  Little robots, that’s exactly what I need, little robots…).

No, my kids don’t mindlessly obey.  They respond. They respond to me.

When I simply yell louder, my daughter doesn’t obey more, she just cries.

They respond, whether I’m prepared and doing a good job, wearing Patient Mommy Pants, or not.

Similarly, I have a hard time mindlessly obeying God, but I do have to respond.

In scripture, men and women approached Jesus in many ways and for many things – questions, testing, curiosity, healing, hunger, or teaching – Jesus was always faithful in presenting his Father God.

But how people responded, how they left after encountering Jesus, varied.

Sometimes they left healed, filled, cleansed, redeemed, and saved.

Others left frustrated, sad, and angry.

Unlike myself as a parent who strives for Patient, but sometimes can only muster Yelling or Lazy, Jesus is consistent his multifaceted character.

I am Holy. I am Good. I am Love. I am Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am creative. I am everywhere. I am power. I am Peace. I am Provider.  I am Here. I am Alive. I am King.

And he is consistent in his identity.

I am that I am. 

He is consistent in revealing the Father.

And I am left to respond as I encounter God in scripture, in teachings, and in prayer.

Do I leave feeling like a whole new Kingdom had been laid before me full of reconciliation and mercy and salvation?

Or, do I walk away feeling self-righteous and annoyed and in a hurry to erase Jesus’ words from my memory?

Sometimes I am the desperate sinner, other times the skeptical Pharisee.

But God will always be the same.

He will always be the One who came to dwell among us as a tiny, helpless baby born of a virgin.

He will always be the One who gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.

He will always be the One who can speak words of truth, comfort and love into my heart – even more so than the nice lady at the grocery store.

He will always be.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

And just like consistency in parenting evokes a certain response in my children, God’s consistency brings Peace to his daughter who cries easily in supermarkets, struggles to keep those Yelling Pants in the drawer, and needs affirmation spoken to the deep parts of her soul.

Peace be with you during this season of Advent because of the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Letting

Saying No.

Restraining strong limbs in time out.

Holding down on the changing table.

Saying No.

Setting boundaries.

Monitoring EVERYTHING.

Maintaining boundaries.

Saying No.

Keeping our schedule.

Saying No. 

I’m exhausted.  So is he.

So sometimes I just let go. 

I let him play in the dirt and the mud.  Absolute heaven for my boy.  Letting go. 

I let him bring blankie into the store.  Letting go. 

I let him fall asleep in the car even if that means no nap time when we get home.  Letting go. 

I let him run around naked, giggling and laughing maniacally up and down the hallway.  Letting go.

I let him eat sweets before lunch, candy corn is yummy.  Letting go. 

And as much joy as he gets out of the freedom of being diaper-free and getting filthy and not being pestered in the car when he is trying to close his eyes, I also get some joy.

After all, he is growing up so fast. 

And sometimes it feels so good to just say yes and see my Zachy Boy play, run, eat and sleep – even if he wants to do these things at inopportune times or in inopportune ways. 

Letting him indulge.  Letting myself relax.

Letting ourselves enjoy these precious days with earth and sugar and cuddles and laughter.

(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.

It stops with me

Guess what?  I have never raised a three year old before.  I mean, prior to Evangeline turning three last September that is.  When she turns 4 next week, I will never have raised a 4 year old and will find myself in the same position of clueless inexperienced motherhood.

Sometimes, most of the time really, it doesn’t matter.  A solid combination of parenting books, Google, common sense and bribery-by-candy seem to get the job done just fine.

But, let me tell you, there are times when I have no earthly idea what I am doing.

This morning, about five minutes before we had to be loaded up in the car in order to get to preschool on time, SOMETHING SNAPPED inside my little girl and thus began THE TANTRUM.  This summer she started having toddler-like ‘melt-downs’ and when we aren’t smack dab in the middle of one, my husband and I can have calm, rational conversations about why this is happening and make reasoned, educated guesses.  Is it a growth spurt?  Does she need more sleep?  Does she need different strategies to help manage her anger?  Is this just completely normal for a 3 year old?

But when we are in full-on TANTRUM mode oh Dear Lord help me I have no clue what to do and nothing seems to end the irrational screaming and kicking and I panic. We have to be to school on time or all the other parents and teachers will know what a bad mom I am who can’t control her child and that my pretty daughter isn’t perfect and then I won’t make it to my play date or finish the grocery shopping and…Exhale. 

In these heated moments I am torn between remaining the calm adult ready to wait out THE TANTRUM and employ my Super Nanny skills versus transforming into the cornered, wounded animal ready to use every ounce of strength in my body to get that girl in her car seat if it is THE LAST THING I DO

In these heated moments I am tempted to forget that my children aren’t actually my enemies and that I am not in a battle, I am in a family. 

I may have forgotten those things this morning, but eventually we got that girl strapped in the car and she finally started to calm down.  She hadn’t had enough breakfast (and I think needed a blood sugar boost after that exhausting and impressive display) so even though I was running late I decided we would cruise through the Starbucks drive-thru to get her a chocolate milk and a muffin.  And since I already divulged that using candy as bribery is part of my parenting strategy, I might as well admit that the Starbucks treat was offered in part to make sure that by the time we got to school I could present an appeased, happy child to the nice, composed Christian ladies there while I take all the credit for awesome mothering.

So we’re in the drive-thru line and I am totally in my head debriefing and decompressing and coping and trying to recover internally from THE TANTRUM and I hand the Nice Starbucks Lady my debit card and she says “the car in front of you paid for you”

“Huh?”  I say, so stuck in 3 year old drama that I wasn’t quite ready to interact with another member of the adult world.

“Actually you are car number 9” she continued.

“Excuse me?”  I say again (now seriously regretting not getting a caffeinated treat for mommy)

“9 cars ago a lady paid for the person behind her, and every car since has passed it on”.  I could see in her eyes how exciting this was for her, she was witnessing an ever growing chain of random acts of kindness!

“Oh” I manage to mutter as she hesitantly handed me back my card.  “Oh, okay thanks”.

And my oh my, what a wonderful story it would be if I could write about how I did the same for the car behind me and it kept going for 20 or 30 or 100 or 500 cars!  What a testimony to human kindness and loving our neighbors!  It would be called the Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 in the newspaper.  I could see the caption now… All because ordinary individuals decided to pay it forward…

Nice Starbucks Lady had a bit of a dumbfounded and disappointed look on her face as I shoved my card back into my wallet and drove off.

I didn’t pay it forward.

The Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 never happened.

Whatever kind of crazy morning the person behind me was having didn’t get improved by a free latte.

Any joy and elation in the Starbucks crew ended abruptly with the grumpy mom in the grey Ford Taurus.

It stopped with me.

It stopped with…gasp…a Christian.  I’ve never been so thankful I don’t have a Jesus Fish stuck to my bumper as I was this morning when I let down the human race with my under caffeinated, overwrought, too self-involved-to-care-about-others KINDNESS FAIL.

And I can’t help but wonder God what the heck are you thinking?  Why have you entrusted us with anything?  Why have you entrusted ME with anything?  Do you realize you have given me two of your most beautiful creatures to care for and raise?  Do you?  Do you realize you have left the message of your Love and Salvation and Hope to people like me who can’t even pay it forward in the Starbucks drive-thru?  Do you?  Do you?

So often is stops with me.

I see my neighbor out there but it would just cost too much awkwardness and too much energy and too much possible rejection to stop and talk.

I see that person who is struggling to survive but I have had a hell of a morning and just can’t do anything about their problems right now.

I hear about those children who need help NOW but I can’t even get my own daughter to school on time and my budget is a mess so maybe later.

So, God, your love stops with me and I have to ask you again…do you realize what you are doing? 

Why have you asked me, asked us, to do this work?  I don’t think I am very good at it.

And I think it might be obvious to others…

As much as I like to think I appear the expert Christian mommy when I drop E off at school I am sure that the teachers can recognize a rough morning when they see it.

As much as I like to think I am doing my part, I’m sure even Nice Starbucks Lady can spot a woman on the brink when she comes through the line asking for chocolate milk for her 2 and 3 year old at 8 a.m.

As much as I like to think that I am a beautiful, smooth porcelain vase, I think maybe I’m meant to be a rustic, crumbly jar of clay and should just own it.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  2 corinthians 4

Maybe it’s okay that my 3 year old isn’t perfect.

Maybe it’s okay that her mom isn’t perfect, either.

Maybe God knows that I will let down Starbucks and my neighbors and the homeless and the children around the world – but He loves and forgives me anyway.  

Maybe God knows I might never do anything kind or special or sacrificial – but he finds me worth saving anyway. 

Maybe God knows that His grace and His mercy will shine forth even brighter from my imperfect life.

We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. 2 Corinthians 4

Maybe God knows that she who is forgiven much, loves much, and that perhaps tomorrow I will take that love down to the Starbucks drive-thru or to the lady across the street or to the man in the park, or even to myself as I do the best I can with toddlers and preschoolers and TANTRUMS in my life.

Thank you God for loving me in failure, in victory, in good deeds, in bad deeds, and in missed deeds.  Please help me to show others who You are in the calm and in the crazy, in the holy and in the ordinary.  Thank you for Christ in me.

Oh, and thank you Lord for Starbucks.