Perfect Systems

About once a year I come up with a new and improved brilliant plan to become more organized (and as a result be an overall better human, obviously).  A lot of them involve bins and folders and color coding and sometimes a trip to the craft store.  My most recent scheme was to have a plastic crate in the hallway out to our garage that could serve as sort of a ‘transition’ spot for things that needed to be sent on or returned or shipped elsewhere like library books, loaned tupperware, etc….  Thanks Pinterest!!!  So about nine months ago, while feeling like a G E N I U S over this new created system, I put some books that needed to be returned to friends into the Transition Bin

No clutter on our desk?  Check!

Returning items to people in a promptly manner?  Check!

Except…can you believe that those darn books ARE STILL SITTING in a stupid turquoise plastic crate in my garage?  I completely forgot about my brilliant idea and have yet to return these books to my friends.  (You know who you are, I’m so sorry!)

It was a really smart idea for handling such items provided that the person implementing this was not a scatterbrained, head-in-the-clouds kind of person.

I got pretty frustrated with myself over all this and a parade of unused chore charts, abandoned filing systems and wasted money at Staples floated through my mind, along with one very specific memory.   Back when Jon and I were not yet married, he was out of town for a work conference so I, pulling a CLASSIC new girlfriend move,   majorly cleaned and organized his house without him knowing, permitting or requesting.  Upon returning his immediate reaction was not oozing gratitude over how much better his house looked (it looked sooooo much better!), but rather he pointed out that just because I changed his piles of paper and laundry and books – didn’t mean I would change him.

Ouch!

But he was so right.  I hate that.

All the mail organizers in the world will not change the fact that my husband is, what I will affectionately call, a pack rat.  Alternatively, all the pretty multicolored crates in the world will not change the fact that I am, what I affectionately call, helter skelter.

Perfect systems + broken people = you still don’t have your books back. 

I have recently been studying the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the gospel of Mark.  It starts off like this,

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 

There is, coincidentally, a Perfect System set up in scripture for us to be good human beings, a little something called The Ten Commandments.  Follow this and you will perfectly honor God and your family and your neighbor!

While Jesus sort of cuts this guy off at the pass…

“No one is good except God alone”

The man goes on anyways…

20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” (aka I am awesome sauce)

But secretly, waaayyyy  underneath it all, I wonder if he is as frustrated with himself as I am with myself?  I wonder if he is tired?  I wonder if, regardless of his striving he knows deep inside there must be something more, something he is missing?

The never ending list of things I have to do to be a good Christian stare me down.  And Jesus is soooooo serious about them all, I bet he is mad at me!  But this Perfect System will not change me.  If anything it just mocks me in my failure and impotency.

Neither does The Law change who I am in my core.  Nor could it truly change this man in scripture.

We’re all doomed I guess.

But fortunately, The Story goes on

21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

To be honest it’s easy to read something along the lines of “Close but no cigar, brah, try again, try harder!!” in how Jesus responds.  But I’m wrong in that.  God is actually not interested in putting more hoops to jump through in order to be saved.  He’s not suggesting ONE MORE SYSTEM of rules to see if WE CAN FINALLY GET IT RIGHT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  But perhaps instead He wants us to see our hearts as He sees them.

22 But at these words the man was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property

I wonder if he was sad over giving away his wealth, or sad because he was indeed able to see the state of his heart.

As Paul says in his letter to those legalistic Galatians

We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.

After the rich guy leaves,  Jesus says some more hard things and the disciples share their reaction…

They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

So it is true you guys, I am not organized.  And to be honest I probably never will be even though once a year I will spend some cash on those pretty, floral organizers at Target. It’s probably for the best if you don’t loan me your things.  And it’s true that I still follow my husband around the house throwing away cleaning up his piles of clutter.

And maybe that’s okay, I’ll leave it to the Type-As.  Because when I look at who I am today it is truly nothing short of a miracle and sometimes I don’t even recognize myself.  To see the ways that God has completely changed me from the inside out, not through rules, but rather through the mysterious workings of a very Holy Spirit I am in awe and I have hope for myself and I indeed have hope for what happened with this rich guy in the bible.  I have proven to be pretty crappy at changing myself, even when I give it my best effort.

But what is impossible for me is done through God with power, completeness and goodness.

Now THIS is a perfect system!

Perfect System + Broken People = I am a new creation

Amen.

Anne Lamott

Yeah, I do

Do you remember eleven years ago, this month? We were leaving another game night at Nathan and Andrea’s house.  We walked outside together, but before we said good-bye you asked me a question.

Do you want to get lunch after church tomorrow?

“Yeah, I do” I answered, trying to play it cool.  “that would be great”

Okay, then see ya tomorrow.  And you got into your Chevy Lumina and I got into my Pontiac Sunfire.

At Chili’s I got the chicken crispers and we talked about our families and March Madness and when lunch was over I still didn’t know a lot about you, except that you were kind and smart and really tall which of course was a must-have on my list.  But I knew, from a whisper in my heart, that I was going to marry you. 

One of our next dates, you took me swing dancing but beforehand, in my crammed grad student office, Carolina sugar scrubbed my hands so they’d be soft in yours as we jitter bugged around the Student Union.  A year and a half later, after the dinner dates and movie dates and the first kiss and long walks and some hard conversations and meeting each others’ parents and falling in love, your dad asked me an important question, in front of God and our family and friends.

Kirsten, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage?  Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

Yes, I will.  I answered.

I remember the first year of our marriage so vividly. The long hikes in the mountains and long games of Trivial Pursuit at The Wine Loft, a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Gris always on our table.  Peaceful evenings in our little cabin, under the Flagstaff stars.  I loved popping into your office on campus and driving out to Chad and Joy’s house on Monday nights.  I loved cold mornings with you headed into town, sometimes we’d have to pull over again to scrape more ice off the windshield, both of us clutching our travel mugs and listening to Morning Edition.

Then, a move to Tucson that was scary for me, but we were in it together.  Finding friends, finding a church, finding a job, finding out we were pregnant only to lose that baby.  Finding out we were pregnant again a few months later only to lose that one too.  You loved me so well and endured the violent waves of my emotions with me, never minimizing or rushing or shaming.  I know you weren’t sure what to do with me at times, but you did exactly what I needed; you stayed by my side. 

Then this daughter of ours arrived on the scene, and new parts of our hearts were stirred. In under two years we had two babies.  It changed the way I loved, it changed the way I saw you, it changed the ways I needed you.  A blur of diapers and sippy cups and sleepless nights and temper tantrums – some by the kids and some by me -and for awhile there I knew we were just hanging on by a thread.  A very, very thin thread.  But you’d hand me my ipod and my running shoes and I’d mouth “thank you” as I headed out the door to find some peace and sanity on the pavement.

And we laughed a lot and yelled a bit, and tried to capture first steps and first words and first days of school and we bought a house and lost patience with one another over plumbing problems and money problems and life problems.  But always there would be a bottle of wine to linger over, or one extra cup of coffee in the morning, and while the kids ran around us like little monkeys we would talk about God and life and hurts and hopes.  Our song would come on the radio while cooking dinner and right then and there we swayed back and forth in each others’ arms.  Sometimes we couldn’t finish our dance because the oven timer would go off or our daughter would be tugging at your shirt wanting her turn with you.

And now we are busy and have oceans of thoughts and stresses and feelings keeping us like silos under the same roof, and days will go by where even though we are exchanging schedule information and jars of peanut butter for jars of jam – I don’t see you.

Eleven years later, after those chicken crispers at Chili’s, it’s true that there is more grit to us, more communicated when our eyes meet, and definitely more at stake than a first date could ever hold.  But then again, it’s still just us.

This morning you were headed out the door, but before we said good-bye you asked me a question.

Do you want to get lunch together this week?”

“Yeah, I do” I answered, trying to play it cool.  “That would be great”

 

Happy New Year?

My goal every New Year’s Eve is to be in bed by 11:00pm.  That is like a WHOLE HOUR past my normal bed time.  I don’t get too jazzed up over most of the holidays, New Year being one of them.  Plus I am obsessed with sleep.

But reflection and vision, I could do that all day!

So, it is time to reflect on 2015 and pray for and receive vision for 2016.

Like any teacher I geek out over a good old fashioned T-Chart.  In my reflection over the last 365 days I am tempted to create such a chart.  “THE GOOD” in one column, “THE BAD” in the other, and then determine from there, depending on which column has more, whether 2015 sucked or not.

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But as I was thinking back over my year, try as I might, I couldn’t quite separate the events, emotions, struggles, and blessings in such a neat and visually pleasing manner.  And more surprisingly, I didn’t want to.  I felt God urging me to see a fuller picture, to take away a greater and far better remembrance from 2015 than simply what went well, and what didn’t.  And I was led to Philippians chapter 4.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 

I have received things I never imagined I would be given, and had things taken away that I thought were off limits.  I had beautiful answers, but am left with heart-wrenching questions.  I felt supported and I felt alone.  I succeeded and I failed.  I rejoiced over new seasons in life, and grieved over unforeseen challenges.  I made both good choices and bad.  I spent less time on the internet and also nearly threw my computer in rage over said internet a few times.  I was a good wife and a crappy wife.  I was a patient mom and a yelling mom.

I stumbled upon joy in a great struggle, and was hit with struggle in a great joy.  The good mixed with the bad in many layers and hues. 

Perhaps what happened, or what didn’t happen, in 2015 isn’t as much the point as I am tempted to believe. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Often when I read this verse, I focus on the words CAN or ALL THINGS or STRENGTHENS or ME, and my life ends up looking a bit like a T-Chart.

But in the center of this verse is Christ.  Jesus Christ.  All other words revolve around Him.  aa

All events, circumstances, emotions, obstacles, failures, successes, seasons, and even all doubts, fears and questions are just that.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I can divide them up into the GOOD and the BAD.  I can hope for more or less of them for the New Year.  I can slide my finger over to the delete key and forget the bad and give thanks for the good.  I can glare at the GOOD column, wishing it were bigger, resolving that 2016 will be better, greater, happier, healthier skinnier, and more organized!

But that would just be a two-dimensional chart on a page.  Words and events.  Circumstances and seasons.  ALL and I and THINGS and CAN.

What God gave me in 2015, and what I expect he will give me in 2016, is Christ.  Christ in the hard.  Christ in the good.  Irresistible Jesus.

In the darkest of the year, when I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life or my heart, when theology and people and words and ideas were not soothing to the soul, there was Jesus waiting, washing, crying, seeing.  Oh how I love himHe is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following. 

In the brightest of the year, when I was full and satisfied and confident there was Jesus, leading me on, clapping for me, empowering me and teaching me.  He is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following.

May what sticks with me be that yeah sure, I had GOOD and I had BAD, but in all these I had Christ.

May my 2016, and yours too, be yeah sure, there will be GOOD and there will be BAD, but in all these we will have Christ.

Eugene Peterson phrases Paul’s words nicely

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Happy New Year, let’s all go to bed early!

Dear Santa, I’m just not that into you

I don’t think it phases my children AT ALL when I tenderly tell them Santa Claus isn’t real.  I can’t imagine why they ignore me on this (sarcasm font in case you’re missing it).  Hmmm…perhaps it is because he is actually at the mall, sitting on an actual over sized green velvet armchair welcoming small children to come sit on his actual lap and feel his actual fluffy white beard.

So yeah it’s true, I’m the meanie, scroogey mom that encourages her wide-eyed sugar plum fairies NOT to “believe”.  #sorrynotsorry

Yet, somehow we found ourselves in the line at the mall yesterday waiting to see the jolly ole’ fellow so my children could tell him what they want for Christmas presents (A puppy, in case you are wondering.  My daughter wants a puppy.  And a crossbow for my son, thank you very much). It was all so very Miracle on 34th Street, what with their eager gift requests and me trying not to roll my eyes in front of the other kids. 

I don’t hate Santa.   I hate the mall.  I loathe the mall.  But I don’t hate Santa.  Promise!

I’m just not that into him.

I love Christmas and the holidays.

I love tradition.  I refuse to abandon my grandmother’s orange ice cream jello for family holidays, multicolored lights on the tree or watching my favorite Christmas movies every year.

I love wild imagination and wild wonder in children, especially my own.

I love the music (although admittedly I am more Vienna Boys Choir than Jingle Bells and Frosty)

So I admit drawing lines can be hard.  We all, whether for ourselves or for our children, have to make decisions about where to draw those lines in life.  Santa Claus, even with his jolly Ho Ho HO and giant sack of presents, doesn’t make it any easier.  But the stark contrast between Christ and Claus (at least how we celebrate Old Saint Nick today) are just too, too great.

The squishy, luxurious, velvet chair at the mall feels out of place and almost offensive next to a simple manger in a cold barn.

The flying reindeer and elves are lots of fun and flash, but cheap and shallow and false compared to the poor shepherds’ awe, the magnificent angels singing and the beauty and faith of Mary – all of whom are centered around the miracle of God himself putting on flesh in the most vulnerable and humble way.

I get that these aren’t huge dilemmas, I mean I have a Christmas Tree and bake gingerbread houses every year, things that obviously have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  But, like I said, everyone gets to draw their own lines.

Yesterday afternoon, when we had returned from our Santa encounter, the kids were out playing in the backyard, when I saw my son doing something he knew he was not supposed to do.  I went out back and barely even had to put on my stern mommy face for him to burst into tears.  I was glad he was showing remorse, but then through sobs he wailed out “Santa isn’t going to bring me any presents!”.

He obviously knew enough about the old man to have heard the whole naughty and nice shtick.  While I will admit I am not above bribing my children, there was an important teaching opportunity here I did not want to miss.

Mommy:   “So what is the consequence from Santa Claus when you are naughty?”

Zachary:  (through more tears) “No presents”

Mommy:  “That’s right.  No presents.  Now what is the consequence from God, when we are naughty?”

Zachary:  “He forgives us”

Mommy:  (by this point my preaching voice is in FULL effect…)  “That’s right babe.  I am so thankful Santa isn’t real, and that he isn’t the one deciding things because we would probably not get any presents!  But God is different.  God gives us presents even though we are naughty.  He gives us presents BECAUSE we are naughty.  He gave us Jesus on Christmas.  I am so thankful for that.  Mommy and daddy will give you presents because we love you, just as God loves us.”

They still love Santa.  They still want to watch The Polar Express and sing Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and that’s fine.

But I am hoping as they grow up in the world, their hearts will not be of this world.  I am hoping that while they are free to enjoy and be entertained by the fun things of the holidays, they will  be singing like the angels, pondering like Mary and bowing down like the Magi – entirely swept up with the gift of Emmanuel.  God with us.  

Christmas PIcture Books

One of the best parts of my parenting gig is the books.  Now that the kids are getting older, we have dived into the world of chapter books.  Spend an afternoon reading the tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Pevensie and Junie B. Jones out loud to my kids?  Yes, please!!!

But we still love our picture books.

Here are some great Christmas ones to check out this year!

Full disclosure #1:  we don’t ‘do Santa’ with our kids.  They have learned about Saint Nicholas, and have fun with the character of Santa Claus since he is EVERYWHERE, but that is about it, and so I purposefully avoid checking out books that are all about Santa and reindeer and stuff.  These are all family oriented or Jesus-y. (Jesus-y is totally a word)

Alright, so here we go…

1. The Crippled Lamb

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Please read this book.  Not only can I not get through reading this book without the waterworks coming on, I can’t even explain the plot to my husband without tearing up.  (Full DIsclosure #2 – if a book makes me cry it earns extra points).  I won’t give the synopsis here because I don’t have a box of tissues nearby so just trust me, go check this one out.

2. The Little Drummer Boy

Book - The Little Drummerboy

Full Disclosure # 3:  I have never really liked this song.

However, this book takes the lyrics to the song and accompanies them with vivid pictures of a little boy tagging along with the Magi to visit Jesus in the manger.  It is fun to read with my kids because I will sing the main line, and then they sing the “pa rum pum pum pum” bit.  And they can bang their hands on the book as if it were a drum.

But why this one is making the cut is pretty much because of the illustration that goes with the line “I played my best for him”, which is also the illustration on the front cover shown above.  As this poor boy plays his heart out for Jesus, the angel wings drawn in the background capture perfectly that mystery and miracle of our simple songs being transformed into a beautiful and holy offering received by King Jesus, just as he would receive worship from the Heavenly Hosts.   Absolutely amazing.  Aaaannnd I ‘m crying again.

3. Probity Jones and the Fear Not Angel

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During a season where I constantly tell my children that these really fun things like Santa and Elves don’t actually exist, to be able to boldly proclaim that YES! angels are real, feels good to me.

This book is longer, but Evangeline is at an age where she will sit through a lot of narrative if it is holding her attention.  While this precious little protagonist misses out on being a part of her church’s Christmas pageant due to a fever, an angel appears and brings her back to the birth of Jesus, where she gets to proclaim the Good News to the Shepherds with The Fear Not Angel who is guiding her.

It’s beautiful and sad and full of hope.

4. The All I’ll Ever Want Christmas Doll. 

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Man, my kids can fight over toys.  This sweet story shows a lesson I REALLY REALLY REALLY want my kids to learn – how relationships and community, especially sibling relationships, are more valuable than toys and getting their own way.  Plus, we don’t spend very much in the way of Christmas presents and keep things pretty minimal so a book that shows other families not rolling in cash or having mountains of toys under the tree is important to me.

5.  Tonight You Are My Baby

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Full disclosure #4:  This book isn’t for the kids.  It is for me.

The refrain “Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby” is repeated throughout this poetic and gorgeously illustrated book.  Lines like “This star will bring the others and I will start to share.  But tonight you are mine – to give my tender care” make me love Jesus and Mary even more.  It is a perfect read during the this season to contemplate the Virgin Mary and her thoughts, actions and role in the Christmas Story.  It is also a perfect read for any mother as they realize, or realized, the moments of holding their newborn are precious and few.  Waaahhhhhh! 

As a mom it is easy to make Christmas all about our children and miss out on God speaking to our hearts.  I look over to our stack of ‘grown up’ books and see my advent reading and prayer book, knowing full well how little I will get through this season.  So I am thankful for the simplicity of children’s books such as these and others that pierce my heart and allow me to worship and connect and be moved.

Any Christmas chapter books I should know about?

What it’s worth

These are my kids.

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I’m hoping you’ll be so very overcome by how cute they that you’ll completely overlook our less than stellar landscaping.

I’d like to draw your attention to the AT AT walker in our backyard (pretend your 4, and you’ll see it…maybe…)  In case you are not a Star Wars Geek, married to a Star Wars Geek, or the parent of a Star Wars Geek, here are what actual AT AT Walkers look like:

 

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The imagination of a child is an impressive force, oh so delightful when kids are at play; but down-right ridiculous and formidable when a fight breaks out.  My children have been known to fight over who gets to decorate THE IMAGINARY COOKIES they baked.  Try and tell them they can just bake more, because THEY ARE IMAGINARY and they look at you as if  you’re the one whose gone round the bend.

So when the two of them broke out in a fight over who gets to drive this AT AT Walker in the back yard, I had the NERVE to suggest that they simply build a second one.  It was communicated to me at that point, not so much in words but in glares, that my rational ideas were not welcome, and the fight continued.

As you can see from the picture, this was not some fancy-schmancy new toy , it was a Fisher Price basketball hoop, minus the backboard, and a cracked plastic chair.  That’s it!  However, Just like the imaginary cookies they fought over, it wasn’t really about what the object was.    Believe it or not, it wasn’t even about whether or not it was something real or pretend.

It was entirely about the power they had assigned to this object.   

As I stood at my kitchen sink, watching them through the window as they fought (and rolling my eyes at their inability to solve this problem rationally), I was so strongly convicted.

How many times have I been stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, or brokenhearted simply because I had given power and significance to something – imaginary or real – that did not warrant such authority?  How many times have I been the one irrationally outraged that I didn’t get to decorate the imaginary cookie?  How many times. Lord? 

Jesus summarizes this nicely for us,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When I, for whatever reason, decide that something has value, my heart sure does follow.  I see this penetrating at every level of my life and being.

In some superficial ways…

        My weight.

         My outfit.

         A Pinterest-perfect themed birthday party for the kids.

And some deeper ways…

        The number of people who show up to a bible study I lead

         The number on the bank statement.

…and deeper still..

Who needs me.

   Who loves me.

Ideologies.

Theologies.

Identity.

How I look, or what I wear, or what the scale says are really just some cheap plastic chairs and a child’s basketball hoop.  Unless I say otherwise.

And I have.

The numbers, the decorations, and even, ahem, the backyard landscaping are just that – numbers, decorations and landscaping  Unless I say otherwise. 

And I have. 

We are not given a life free of problems, sickness, death, unemployment or relational conflict.  But it’s entirely possible that a lot of the problems I have are ones that I have created for myself.

What others think of me hold power because I have given that power over. Where my treasure is, there my heart goes, too.  And sometimes my treasures look a little too much like pictures on the internet, or pictures in my mind, or arguments won or praise received or being everyone’s favorite or health and wealth or even my own well being…and not enough like Jesus and His Kingdom.

And the result of course is plain as day.  I see it in my kids.  Temper tantrums over imaginary cookies.  Stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, and brokenhearted.  Simply because I proclaimed that   _______________________ was the most important and valuable thing.

 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This treasure, that the Father gives, is trustworthy, and worth everything.   As my heart follows, it finds those very things that it longs for most, things that make a downright MOCKERY of all that anxiety and fear and sadness and stress.

Today I’d like to remember to seek the best Treasure and let that treasure change my heart with the power to delight me, fulfill me, encourage me, empower me and save me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

On not getting my own way

I haven’t published anything on here in the last six months, it’s a little bit me being lazy, and a little bit feeling like the world doesn’t need one more thing to read, one more voice, and a little bit feeling like I’m awful at writing.  But I gave myself a timeline of the end of October to either publish something or delete my blog, and so even though I don’t know the answer to those questions,  I am going to try and write!  

I have about 6 unfinished writings from the summer, this one I had only gotten so far as putting a passage of scripture at the top, but it’s as sharp to my soul today as it was in June.

He said to them, For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.   Matthew 17:20

is it just me or is Jesus setting the bar pretty low here?

Yep.  Yep He is.  I want to be offended and scoff a bit here,  because obviously my faith is HUGE!!!!    Much more like a whole, entire, watermelon, really.

BWAHAHAHHAA!   My faith isn’t even approaching mustard seed size on a lot of days.  So my response is actually more like HALLELUJAH!  Maybe I can pull actually pull this off!

You might think “wow! Can someone who has been following Christ for half her life struggle to produce even the smallest ounce of faith at this point in her journey?  That’s pretty bad!”

But it’s pretty easy actually.  It’s called not getting what I want.  

Jesus talks about seeds and trees and mountains an awful lot,  but I think faith, at least my real life experience of it, is more like a balloon.  A little less like a force to be reckoned with and a little more like something that pops under pressure.

The Lord God grants and arranges and speaks, and when I look behind me at His workings in my life I can see these huge sweeping movements of grace, movements made up of individual conversations and moments and thoughts and interventions – all forceful breaths into my balloon.   With each provision, each time he gives me the very desires of my heart, my balloon is fuller and fuller and floats higher and higher.  It’s quite impressive, really.

But then, something doesn’t go right.  I don’t get my way.  And that balloon POPS!  With the startling noise all the goodness and faithfulness and promises of my God are just absolutely lost on me.  Forgotten, as if they never existed.  How can I possibly think about moving mountains when this is what my life looks like!

And I question and panic and I doubt and I am so ashamed to say I shake my fist at God.

When there is still pain, still struggle, still a long. way. to. go. we forget the promise, forget the Giver, just like the Isrealites.

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

When the path takes a sharp turn, when what we have built our lives upon now looks vastly different, we forget the promises, we forget the Giver, just like Peter.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see youin the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

There have been a lot of POPS! happening, and each and every time I find myself startled, and subsequently wandering around my living room, looking for the invisible bits of God that have vanished into thin air, but all I can salvage to hang on to are bits of torn latex.

That, my friends, is why Jesus does not say faith is like a balloon.  Balloons POP! but the Holy Spirit does not.  The Word of God does not.  God himself does not.

HALLELUJAH!  Maybe I can pull actually pull this off!

The bubble may burst.  Alright, the bubble WILL burst.  The diagnosis may come and the healing may be withheld.  The path may wind and go on for far longer than I originally signed up for.  The seat may be at the very end of the table and it sometimes sucks down there.  The scenery and plot line are not what I wanted or planned on.  They just aren’t.  And they rock my world in the worst way possible.

But the LORD who led his people out of Egypt, led them also out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

And the Jesus who was best friends with Peter before the crucifixion, meets him again to cook him a nice fish breakfast on the other side of it all.

He approaches the girl who doubted and forgot, and in my empty hand places the seed, again.  It’s soooo tiny!  But it’s chock full of remembrance of good deeds, good promises and good hope and good power to go move that mountain.

This Mother’s Day, I am.

Mother and Two Children by Mary Cassatt
Mother and Two Children by Mary Cassatt

Mothers are frequently defined, by themselves and by others, according to what they do.  For good reason, because let me tell you mothers do a lot.

Ya’ll remember this gem?

As a mother I prepare three meals a day plus snacks.  I menu plan and grocery shop and manage our schedules and pick up and drop off and volunteer.

As a mother I scrub and wash and fold and pick up and pick up and pick up and pick up and…

As a mother I mend and bandage and groom.

As a mother I speak and scold and teach and whisper and sing lullabies and, let’s be honest  here, I yell quite a bit.

As a mother I answer and I listen.

As a mother I fret and wring my hands and shout “Be careful!”

As a mother I play and entertain and run and dance and play in the snow and hike down to the creek and hang out in the shallow end and lift them high so they can see the elephants over the fence at the zoo.  (But I most definitely don’t craft…)

As a mother I breastfeed and bottle feed and stay home and go to work and cloth-diaper and disposable-diaper and feed my kids homemade baby food and orange mac and cheese.

Every mother is different, of course.  The ‘doing’ varies from woman to woman, culture to culture, baby to baby, season to season.

Mothers do.  Endlessly.  Always.  The job description is beautiful and varied and joyful and tiring and exciting and mind-numbingly boring at times.

But what if I stopped doing?  Well, recently I sort of have.

I had surgery on my foot and for the few months prior to the surgery, I have been unable to do.   Having willing and generous family and friends have helped immensely in keeping our house clean and meals cooked.

But, the kids have noticed a change.  Kids are great at noticing, aren’t they?!   They had a mom that did a lot.  I took pride in how active I was, I took pride in our busy days spent exploring parks and museums and running errands and taking walks.  I took pride in my home and my meals and my work.

Now they have a mother that isn’t doing much of anything, hasn’t been for awhile and can’t give them an answer on when mommy will back to how she was before.

What happens when the mommy who does, doesn’t anymore?

The other night I could hear Zachary start screaming from his room, he had a nightmare and  and so I scooted awkwardly but as quickly as possible into his room (yes, I am on wheels.  I named my scooter Joshua and you should be jealous).  I lowered myself carefully onto the floor and pulled him into my lap.  He immediately stopped crying and I felt the tension and fear release from his body into the dark, and he melted into my arms and lap.  Eventually he began breathing deeply, he had fallen back to sleep.

I held him there for awhile, my big boy who will turn four years old this month and is about to surpass his older sister in height and weight.  My big boy, in batman pajamas, a new summer buzz cut and dirt eternally under his finger nails, asleep in my arms.

I hadn’t done much but provide myself.  My scent, my softness, my voice.

And in that moment I was reminded of what makes me a mother.

It’s not the breastfeeding and snuggling and soothing.  It certainly isn’t the cooking and cleaning.  It’s not even the disciplining and teaching and loving.

Sort of like what makes me a Christian isn’t my church attendance or service projects or music selection.  What makes me a Christian is Jesus Christ.

What makes me a mother is that… I am a mother.  What makes me a mother is Evangeline Meghan and Zachary Jonathan.

On Mother’s Day this year I want to remember that I am.

What I get accomplished in a given day,whether I helicopter or free range, what I allow them to watch on TV, and what I cook them and do with them are all fodder for other discussions.

Those are things I do.  And they have value and make for great mommy wars on the internet.  But again, just things I do.  A mother is what I am.  

That’s enough for today, I think.

A Reluctant Learner

“Maybe it’s time you thought about what God is trying to teach you in this, Kir”

Jon boldly spoke those words to his feisty wife this morning and I absolutely hate it how he is always right.  And I hate when he tells me what to do.  Especially when he’s right!   🙂

Sometimes I really wonder what in the world God is doing in my life, mostly in difficult situations. 

Is this loving discipline from Him?

Is this just a crappy scenario that God is going to use to (hopefully!) bring beauty?

Does God have his hand in this at all, or am I just over-spiritualizing EVERYTHING?

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  1 Corinthians 2:11

For the last five months I have had a very small, seemingly minor injury that has managed to affect every area of my life.  But it’s such a stupid injury. It is so insignificant, nothing detected on an MRI or X-Ray, and not even very high on the pain scale.

But it JUST WON’T HEAL.

I have modified my lifestyle greatly and painstakingly.  I quit running completely.  I won’t even take the kids on walks.  I modified my housekeeping and time standing on my feet in the kitchen.  I ice.  I stretch.  I am shelling out mucho dinero to see a physical therapist.  Worst of all I am wearing my gym shoes with orthotic inserts all the time which has seriously cramped my style.

This morning during our church service we ate breakfast together outside, under the Tucson morning sun, then after some prayer and singing, we spread out over the neighborhood and the school across the street to pick up trash, do yard work and prayer walk.

Except for me.

I stayed put.

My discouragement has been growing and growing and growing and growing lately.  Perhaps because the distraction of the Holiday Season is over, or because the desert spring is begging me to come running, so simply because I am tired avoiding all parks, zoos and walks with my kids.

I know that people have bigger problems than me, plenty of others have more pain and worse diagnoses and yet I can’t deny the fact that this has changed both my physical life but also my emotional life.

12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.  2 Corinthians 2:12-13

After seeing my discouragement yet again this morning, Jon had the guts to speak these words.

“Maybe it’s time you thought about what God is trying to teach you in this, Kir

Here’s what I came up with:

1) I am not my usefulness.  I am not my usefulness.  I am not my usefulness.  I have this problem with not seeing my worth and value unless I am helping or providing something to someone.  If I am not keeping up at home, am I even worth loving?  If I just sit here while others do a service project, do I still have value in this community?  If I can’t run and do fun things with my kids right now, what good am I?

I know in my head the answers, really I do, but God has been actively working to make me believe them in the depths of my heart and soul.  Putting me on the bench for awhile might not be the worst thing in the world for me. 

2) Empathy is a gift.  It is really hard to manufacture compassion.  Although my injury seems so small and even trivial, it has led me to so many times of prayer these last few months for those in my life who are struggling with chronic conditions, devastating disease, and on-going pain.  I feel so blessed to have gotten to pray for them, and a new love has sprung in my heart for these people…a glimpse of the Love God has for them, I think.

3) Community is a Balm.  I may have only watched from the sidelines while other people busied themselves this morning, but they aren’t just ‘other people’ they are MY people.  I have people!  They love me and I love them.

4) Healing is slow.   Just because I have had some set backs and am not where I want to be, there is improvement if I am willing to see it and I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just a little further away than I hoped.  Sometimes healing is fast and furious and miraculous, but a lot of times it is grueling and long and tiresome, but no less miraculous.

5)  The Lord is my portion.  Amen.  If I never run again.  If I never get to wear cute shoes again.  If I can’t participate in service projects or 5ks or long hikes.  If this is my life, I still win.  The Lord is my portion, my inheritance, my prize.  That HAS TO BE enough.  And it is, and it is good, I just need reminding sometimes when the going gets tough.

I don’t always know what God is doing in setbacks and disease and pain and discouragement, in my life or the lives of others. but I am thankful for the promises of an active, intentional God.

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,  “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.  1 Corinthians 2: 14-16

Maybe it’s time you thought about what God is trying to teach you in this