My Public Confession and Declaration (about parenting)

I’m sitting here feeling (a little) sorry for myself. At least I’m woman enough to admit it. For that past seventeen years my life has been bereft of my mother and my dad, who tried beautifully to fill both shoes left me almost 5 months ago. So, yeah.

Then there’s the fact that motherhood represents the great cataclysmic change in my life that has brought out my absolute worst and but sometimes best sides. So, I decided I’d turn flip the script a bit. Instead of my kids giving me some schmaltzy accolades (which they did ‘cause they’re awesome), I’d write a public declarations and confessions post.

First, the confessions:

#1 I didn’t love being a mother at first. In fact, I think it took me a number of months to even like it. Thanks to post-partum depression that assailed me like a ton of bricks after each birth, I was in the doldrums while everyone told me I should be flying over the moon.

#2 I yelled too much. I dug in mentally, said I was going to win every argument and shouted to prove it. Ugly, harsh words that if I had the breaths of a lifetime, could not suck it all back in. Also, I still lost a lot of arguments.

#3 We actually thought spanking was the best way to discipline. How absurd! I am indelibly sorry for spanking you- ever. If we still had it, I would personally build the bon fire in which to burn that stupid “whacker” we used to administer corporal punishment.

#4 I diluted your juice waaayyy beyond when I should have  and I made you go to bed too early for too long (which I said was because of science proving kids need good sleep, but was really because I was just “done” by 8 pm).

#5 I was a mediocre teacher who fumbled around trying to pretend I knew what I was doing, too hard-nosed and demanding. But kudos to me, you can all read, write and think relatively well.

#6 I listened to other people’s opinions too much and played the great “how-do-my-kids-stack-up-against-yours-academically-physically-spiritually” game, instead of looking at each of you as unique individuals, gifts perfectly designed to be raised by me (and your dad). (By the way, we came in at 44,786th place. Not bad.)

And lastly, #7 For too long I was afraid, very afraid that I would mess up and you’d turn out horrible, so I tried to create a bubble world I thought would protect you. Then the bubble burst and guess what? It’s okay because I am outside the bubble with you and more than that, so is God.

There’s that. Now on to part two: the declarations.

#1 I love you- NO MATTER WHAT! My mama heart is yours through the tears and rages of young adulthood, through the bad and good decisions you make, through the experimentation years and ignoring me years and the years of trying to figure out just who the heck you are.

#2 I admire you in innumerable ways and I need to get better at reminding you of that everyday: your courage, your intelligence, your creativity, your strength, your determination, your tenacity, your sensitivity, your humor, your beauty, to name a few.

#3 I will give you a good verbal whoop up every now and then because if mom can’t get in your face time to time, you need to toughen up.

#4 I will continue to annoy you, no I will in fact seek to annoy you at times, just to make sure you know who is boss and not take life too seriously.

#5 I will keep telling you to swim against the tide, to be yourself, to go after something if you want it, to not follow the crowd in doing wrong, to get a grip, to do unto others as you’d want done to you, to go to college, to look for beauty everyday and you’ll find it, to remember that God is writing your story, etc.

#6 I will keep listening- always- about your hurts and hopes, about your crazy and brilliant ideas, about your loves and lost loves, about your fears and struggles (Even if it’s the middle of the night.)

#7 I will always make the best chocolate chip cookies. You can count on that.

#8 I will always pray for you.

Happy Mother’s Day 2016

When Fire Marries Gasoline*

This marriage should have caution tape around it.

Yeah. It’s sometimes a bit hazardous over here at my house.

What if I told you there were a few times in 23 years I drove off in my car and plotted leaving but just couldn’t find the nerve?

Marriage isn’t a subject that I often write about. Not because I don’t know stuff. It just feels weird because marriage (lived out) is about as variegated as the number of plant species in the world over- far too many ways and means and methods for any type of rubber stamp approach. Let’s face it, whether you’ve been married 2 months or 4 decades, it remains a bit of a mystery how 2 individuals unite as one unit and (mostly) cohesively live life together.

Now add into the mix two driven, high strung, high energy, “perfectionistas” and crap- it gets kinda messy at moments.

Some days I find it nothing short of a miracle that we’ve made it this far intact (and IT IS a miracle of God’s grace and mercy).

Picture this- a nice intense crackling fire. Close by sits a red can full of gasoline, almost near enough to combust at any moment. That’s us- fire and gasoline.

“You cannot settle something without fighting about it.” That is what I said when we were first married. I’m fairly certain he thought, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?!”

And so, for the first portion of our marriage we did a fair share of that. Equally head strong and heart strong with a splash of misconstrued marital bliss and a dash of young naivety.

Then somewhere half way in, I changed God changed me in some pretty huge ways. It was slow and excruciatingly painful. Yet it morphed all of me, including the wife part.

So there I was, far from where we had begun, in new uncharted territory, getting a kind of “relationship do-over”. It felt exhilarating and frightening all at once.

Without any pretense or know-it-all-ness, I can tell you it is possible to live within combustion range. What is equally crucial are both separate time and together time; time to pursue things we love and time to pursue our love.

To differ vehemently also takes the bigness to embrace the differences; “fight” hard and fight to preserve the treasure you’ve been given. Prize clear, honest communication above all else.

I got married for life. When I signed my name on that certificate, I really signed my name before God to do everything I (rather mechanically) said in those vows.

And I’ve learned that as complex and challenging as it is to live near combustion, fire and gasoline are equally beneficial to each other. Uniting one substance to the other creates a better, hotter, sustainable fire.

That’s us- better together, even with an occasional need for caution tape.

*This title was inspired by the Sia song, “Fire Meet Gasoline”.

Marked

I thought it was morbidly weird- ashen crosses on foreheads. My thought process was something like: Must we? That is what makes the world think the Christian religion is a bit freaky; so many outwards signs, symbols and rituals. And this… it’s just so sad looking.

We all wear scars, marks if you will. Some are visible, some invisible.

Maybe it’s a scar from a surgery or the marks from birthing children. Perhaps our mark is an intentional one like a tattoo with meaning behind it. Or the scar could have a darker purpose, like an attempted suicide or cutting.

Whatever the case, these are reminders, either for good or bad.

Likewise, the ashen cross marks us, reminds us, prepares us. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are in need of saving and Someone has already done that. It reminds us that we are still carrying that mark invisibly in our souls everyday because we belong to Another. It prepares us for one of the greatest events in human history- the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The 40 days of going without serve a somber purpose, but with the happiest of all endings- the reason we rejoice in our present salvation and have a future hope.

The cross is the beginning, but the empty grave is the end!

As we embark on the journey of Lent, it is with purpose and deliberation; a time of reflection and ardent pursuit of the greatest love ever given.

I am a soul forever marked.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

A little over three weeks ago, I entered the valley of the shadow of death. I feared this day would come. I felt its imminence and had hoped I would be ready, but who can ever be ready to watch their parent die? Maybe you’re like me and you’ve always wondered if the movies are accurate at all. This is my story, not anyone else’s and certainly not an idyllic deathbed scene, but as always, I strive for truth plainly spoken. So here it is.

My day began with a phone call from the ICU nurse. This was not wholly unexpected as I had given consent just a day earlier to attempt a repair on his perforated bowel. As she held the phone to his ear, I asked my dad what he wanted me to do for him. His answer? Push the magic button. Less than half a day later, I was headed to Idaho, unsure of what would come, yet dreading what felt like the inevitable.

I was the designated legal medical decision maker, so the doctors came and looked at me, waiting for an answer. The irony of that. Who could be mentally or emotionally prepared to make the choice to remove nutrition, to start the morphine drip, to remove life giving antibiotics and oxygen? That was my gut-wrenching duty (along with my siblings input) and no matter how many times the doctors and nurses assured me, it felt horribly wrong. It felt like I was making him die and still, I replay those pivotal scenes like a nightmare.

At first I was hopeful. Then the hours dragged on like a cruel form of emotional torture, watching him try to get out of bed, wanting to go home. This was not going to happen for him though and so we kept vigil at his bed side. They assured us the waiting was worse than what he was going though. I doubt that. I saw it in his eyes. He knew what was happening.

Moments of deep sadness and sweet remembrance were mingled together in sharp juxtaposition. My siblings and I recalled stories of times past, times that would never be again. I felt the injustice as I watched patients rounding the floor of the hospital in their gowns, knowing eventually they would go home.

Suddenly his breathing changed. We made phone calls and every family member got to say their good byes. Even though coherent words were absent, he heard. He heard the love in those voices and his eyes said he understood. I just wish he could have said, “I love you” one more time.

What felt like a hundred times, we released him to heaven and Jesus, assuring him that we would carry on as best we could without him. The chaplains came and went, offering prayers, kind words and listening ears. Comforting, but even this felt like a hollow religious exercise. We held his hand and sang old hymns to him, probably more for us than him.

As his breathing grew labored, I began coming unnerved. My stomach felt like I had been on a roller coaster and the bottom dropped out, except in a sickening way, not a fun way. Our ambling around the halls and floors of the hospital became frequent, looking for a respite of what we knew was coming.

I wish I could say that some supernatural presence was felt, but it wasn’t. What I can say is that my prayers were answered for a short duration of the process, that my siblings and I had beautiful synergy and that my dad left this earth surrounded by his children’s love.

I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, comforted by my eternal hope but nearly crushed by the horrendous journey. It seems unfair, like a sudden reversal of fortune. I came out alive and went home; he never left the valley. Now I’m the one with all the sadness, he with all the joy.

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Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

mud pies

Disarmed

I used to pride myself in saying, “I’m a fighter, not a lover.”

To be a lover meant vulnerability and weakness- two things I didn’t want to classify myself as. To be a lover meant to be all squishy on the inside.

I thought if I displayed my crusty exterior, I’d be prepared for the worst when it inevitably came. With my proverbial sword strapped to my side, I could easily unsheathe it, hacking and hewing with my words or thoughts until I felt vanquished.

But the bad part is, I fought everything, even the good things. I fought grace and forgiveness. I fought joy and freedom. To allow those things to soften me would be to relinquish my self-efficacy. That would not do.

Our pastor used to say: “Behind God’s frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” This angered me. I conjured a rather cosmic joker image; behind the sugary smile was a benevolent dictator of sorts waiting to pounce with His agenda. I did not understand. I fought this idea with a vengeance. To acquiesce to someone calling the shots, especially bad ones, unsettled me in the worst of ways.

Then my mom died. Then we lost lots of money. Then we lost a house. Then I was diagnosed with a hip disease. Then we lost jobs (plural). Then I had to go to counseling. Then we moved 12 times. Then my son chose a lifestyle of self destruction. Then lots more things happened that I won’t bore you with.

Sometime during all that, something changed. Not all at once or in totality but it happened yet I could never pinpoint the date or time.

 I saw God’s smiling face, behind the frowning providence.

I tasted the goodness. I witnessed the mercy. I felt the love. I heard the assuring words. I was washed with the peace. I was girded up with a strength not my own. I soaked in the grace that flowed like a fountain, free and unconditional. I was awed by the miracles. I was overcome by the provision. I was forgiven.

You might think I laid down my arms and became a lover. Not exactly. (Although I tap into that side of me much more frequently these days.) I still have a strong spirit and a tongue that can be venomous; a hard head and a willful way, but now I (mostly) fight for the good – for joy and peace, for strength and beauty, for making each day count. I fight to accept the frowns of God, knowing His kindness and love are far greater.

Does this make me weak? No, I don’t think so. Vulnerable? Yes, in a sense. Yet it is the very softening that enlarges my faith, causing me lean into the arms of a benevolent Father and say: “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

The Day Between

My heart wrenches with a sadness so heavy, it is difficult to breathe. Yesterday, I had to witness the death of my firstborn Son at the hands of evil men; something a mother should never have to endure. His was no ordinary death. This was murder- execution by crucifixion.

Thirty-three years ago, my divine journey began. Engaged to be married to a wonderful man, I looked forward to my future with delighted anticipation. Then just before it unfolded according to plan, my life was transformed forever. An angel appeared to me. He called me, “you who are highly favored” and told me that I, an insignificant Jewish girl, had found favor with God. His words still ring in my ears, especially today as grief overtakes me. I was to bear a Son, while still a virgin, and He would be the Messiah- the One the Jews had waited for so many, many years. As strange and impossible as it sounded, my faith was made stronger to accept this God-sent message with humble honor.

Normally, this is the day of the week I look forward to most- the Sabbath- our day of worshipful rest, a solace from the work and toil of other days. Today is different though. Physically, I am resting but inside my heart and soul, I am in a state of great unrest. The events that took place yesterday replay over and over again in my mind. My tear stained, dusty cheeks remain unwashed. My hands still emanate the fragrance of the burial spices I’d prepared. What seemed to be an incredulous event so many years ago- the birth of my firstborn- had ended in the most violent, cruel death. I could never have imagined this intense grief would be mine to bear.

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As I stood at a distance with the other women, I could scarcely look up at the cross. My son hung there so seemingly helpless. He, who had always obeyed, always helped, always loved, was exposed, naked. Bloody, beaten and mocked He was. I can still hear them shouting jeers at Him: “So you call yourself the King of the Jews! He can save others, but He can’t save Himself! Come down off the cross if you are who you say you are!”

Jesus had told us this day was coming. In my heart, I knew He was right. I understood from the Old Testament teachings that just as a Messiah would come, He would also suffer and die. But this Messiah was also my Son and nothing prepared me for this motherly pain. My heart felt near the point of breaking. I wept in anguish.

John and I stood together, his arm draped around my waist for support. Jesus looked down on us with compassion. In His own suffering, He saw mine. “Dear woman,” He said, “here is your son.” Then he said likewise to John, giving him the responsibility to care for me as his own mother.

Dying a very human death, writhing in agony for each breath drawn, he was thirsty. Even this request was fulfilled with hatred and mockery. Instead of a refreshing drink of water, sour vinegar was offered to Him and he received the gall. When His body could stand no more, “It is finished,” were His final words.

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So, I wait grieved. Rest eludes my soul today. Although I feel a sense of anticipation, I cannot go to the place they have laid His body. Tomorrow, I will awaken before the first rays of sunlight and see if what He said will come to pass. I believe, yet my heart is weak, for I am not like my Son. I am a just a mother who has tasted the bitterness of her child’s death.

This Sabbath day will be forever in my memory as I reflect on the life Jesus lived; first as a baby at my breast and finally as a Man rejected, condemned to the death any common criminal might die. My hope is not quelled by my sadness though, for I hang onto the words He spoke about His resurrection on the third day. My heart wants so badly to believe that I will see my Son alive again! Had Jesus ever given me reason to doubt His words?

As evening draws to a close, John and I eat supper together along with a few others. The silence is deafening. Our grief hangs heavy in the air. Yet, each of us hold fast to eager expectation. Tomorrow will bring fulfillment to those prophetic words spoken ages ago. He will rise again and in doing so, complete the work of redemption, not only for my people but for the whole world. My Son, Jesus, and my Savior will do what He said.

I Don’t Want No Stinking Band Aid ®

I’ll never forget the Sunday. Passing through the church lobby, a book on a small table caught my eye. The title: “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology”. I turned away disgusted. (In all fairness, I haven’t read the book. It might be helpful or truthful.) I was ready to go see a therapist myself after months of dealing with the reality that someone I loved was a substance abuser. It was an exorable grief, coursing through my veins on a daily basis.

This opened a can of stinking rotten worms in my head. Reminded me of a time when I too, thought I could give a hurting someone a bible verse band aid and make it “all better”.

A flood of incidences came to me, like the time I mentioned yoga as one of my fave forms of exercise in a bible study and getting “lovingly rebuked” that this was a no-no. (She said), “Do you know what Namaste’ means? You have to be careful because this is tied to eastern mysticism.” Made me want to downward dog right there!

Or the time that I mentioned a personal problem that one of my kids was having, suggesting that I might take them to see a psychiatrist. You should have seen the narrowed eyes on this sister! “You need to be wary of those worldly philosophies,” she admonished in a lowered tone. Translation: treat this as a spiritual problem and go seek some counseling at church.

Don’t get me started on the stuff people have told me about my struggle with depression. Let’s just say that posting 25 3×5 cards with Bible verses all over my house was not doing the trick.

Before you go all Bible thumping on me, you gotta understand something: I love the Bible. I think it is the very breathed out words of the living God, without error or unable to be added to or subtracted from. It is my most cherished book and the Psalms speak volumes about the plight of human emotion.

BUT, I also strongly hold to the fact that LOTS of other things can help us when we are in the doldrums: like the calming poses of yoga, the trained words and methods of a psychologist or therapist, recovery groups, self-hypnosis (yes, I’ve used this one with great success), rhythmic breathing patterns, friends with open minds and hearts, journal writing, heck, even a great cup of coffee or a relaxing glass of wine.

I will never again just offer the bible verse band aid. It’s no solution to the wound, only a temporary cover-up. Underneath the gash remains, festering, like the continual grief I was weighed down by that Sunday.

Instead, I will offer a listening ear then perhaps a truthful word, soft with empathy and flavored with the salve of hope of Jesus Christ. I will offer arms to hold or hug, eyes to see solutions beyond the obvious, and feet to walk along the path they are walking on until a brighter way comes into view.

throw down the trophy

3445f_Starlet_TrophyThe faux golden bauble stood admiringly on the shelf. The pride swelled in my heart and I gave myself a little proverbial pat on the shoulder. I had worked so hard for that thing! In fact it had been pretty much a relentless 24/7 job earning it. Thankless, tiring and consuming as it seemed, I now had this symbol displayed for all to see. And why not? It represented the blood, sweat and tears, my personal achievement monument…

I picked it up, took one last prideful gaze and threw it on the concrete with every ounce of force I could muster. It shattered and splintered into bits, unrecognizable as anything it was before.

Man, that felt good! A wave of awareness washed over me- it felt strangely like relief; like the sigh that comes at the end of a hard work out session. My striving was over, the expectation to live up to what that trophy represented was gone now. I was liberated from the pressure of my prize and pride!

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Our children can become our trophies: set up as an enduring symbol of our hard work, our push for achievements, our endless hours of driving all over for classes or lessons, our relentless and tireless pursuit of the right education, our sacrifice for the “right stuff”, etc.

We want them to shine like stars (and of course they do in our universe), but that isn’t quite good enough. We gotta have some recognition, some “Ooo’s and Ahh’s” from people, especially other parents.

Here’s the lie : IT IS NOT EVEN ABOUT THEM IN THE END, IT’S ABOUT US. It is a self-seeking venture to garner attention for our own achievement. I mean, everyone knows that a kid like THAT HAD to come from great parents!

And here’s the antithesis of that lie: another lie, that if they don’t turn out as a crowning achievement, amazing student, upstanding citizen, destined for fame or fortune, WE ARE THE FAILURES. We are at fault. We did something terribly wrong. Our trophy never arrived.

This is the most damaging, beguiling lie of all.

So, dear reader, maybe you have that bauble already set on a shelf (because, dang, your kids turned out alright) or perhaps you are already eyeing the wall for a display case you know you’ll need soon. Conversely, you may have anger, resentment, profound disappointment or dashed hopes because well, frankly, your prize is tarnished, damaged, misshapen. You have nothing to show for all your labors.

Throw down the mentality that your kids are yours to behold. Give them wholeheartedly to One who created them. Yes, work with all your might to teach them right from wrong, shape their thinking. And love them no matter what. Then remember that God is molding them and they may look very different from what you’d imagined.

My Heart Belongs To…

Identity.

As I watch my teenaged kids grapple and claw at this concept, I am reminded of my own struggle: ten steps behind the popular chick, never quite the 4.0 dork nerd, not even close to the jock girl, always wishing I could embody the dark, emo girl, but sadly, I was none of those.

Everywhere I searched, I was rejected: never quite “bad” enough or “good” enough or “pretty” enough or “weird” enough (although some would argue with that last one).

The quest is tangible yet elusive. It starts somewhere around the age of self-awareness and resides within us (although less so- hopefully) until we draw our last breath. We want to belong somewhere with people who understand us. In 80’s speak, we want homies.

Whether we do it intentionally or not, we seek out others who are like us and there we find it- identity. Once found, we smile a little more. It’s like an inner sigh of relief that, finally, we can be totally accepted, at home, at peace, ourselves.

But it doesn’t last long- ever. Life emerges beyond high school and lo and behold, we become collegiates or spouses or parents or party animals. One set of groups is left behind and whole new set of them appears. Funny enough, our identity morphs like the changing vibrant colors of a fall leaf- again and again and again.

With all this hullabaloo about Valentines Day and the focus on love, romance, sex, etc, I recognize the very human desire to “belong” to a significant other and in an earthly sense, that’s a good thing because belonging also carries with it commitment, loyalty, and an “I got your back” mentality. We don’t say, “BE MINE” for nothing.

Trust me, I’ve tried adhering my identity to lots of things and people- spouse, children, hobbies, groups, religiosity. None of it works, for long. My heart has been broken by everyone just a little- even myself. With each fracture, my identity crumbles and the search begins anew- to find that entity who will love and accept – NO MATTER WHAT.

I am certain of this: the ONE PERSON our heart can be given to in completeness, totality and surrender is Jesus. He will not abandon us: leave us when lose our coolness factor, ignore us when we become vulnerable, discard us when we are “used up”. He is the one safe place where our identity can be trusted unequivocally, irrevocably, eternally.

My life (identity) is hidden with God through Jesus Christ. No one, no change in circumstance or station in life can ever take that away. He is mine and I am His, much better than any Valentine.