An honest moment

You know what makes me mad? Coming face to face with the realest parts of me.

I grew up knowing that God was good. I grew up wanting so much for everyone, I mean everyone, to think I was too. I loved to be loved. Part of it was my personality. Part of it was my siblings were going through various difficult stages that caused me to believe it was my job to make it easier on parents by being “the good kid” in the family. Part of it, truthfully, is I was really good at being good. I mean, so compliant and acceptable and friendly and mature and responsible and annoying good that I fooled everyone. Most notably, me. I came to see that trait or ability, what I would now call dysfunction, as my ticket to earning my worth. People had to like me, love me and generally admire me, because I absolutely would not give them a reason not to. I overachieved. I denied feelings I considered undesirable. Feelings like insecurity, anger, tiredness and fear. Those weren’t the feelings of a godly and mature teenager, I reasoned, so I simply stuffed them down so deep, I didn’t even notice they were there.

But they were, lurking down inside me and they eventually led me down a path that I would not be able to follow. God was at work in the midst of my sincere and insincere efforts to please Him and people and myself too. I see clearly now all the ways, but at the time, well I just kept working harder. I married the first “cool guy” who romanced me. High school sweethearts. Never mind the fact that he was a huge flirt with other girls. Never mind the fact that we had almost nothing in common, and my dearest most honest childhood best friend was reminding me on my wedding day that I did not have to marry him. I married him and almost immediately knew something was wrong. He didn’t seem to love me, or really even like me that much. Especially when we were alone. But, in front of others, we were cute, loving newlyweds. I remember feeling so desperately lonely around our one year wedding anniversary. We were in a hotel where I was working as a trainer for a restaurant. He had come to surprise me, and even brought a beautiful sapphire ring. But when he fell asleep on the bed that night I walked out to the balcony and wondered if he would care if I jumped off. But, rather than sound the alarm bell that something was in fact, horribly wrong in my marriage, I circled the wagons in tighter. My marriage couldn’t be in trouble. I did everything right.

A few years, a few affairs and two babies later, he walked out the door. The chinks in my resolve to be good were weakening, but I still vowed to be the  best single mom ever. Do everything right. Reach out for help gratefully. Tell everyone how God was sustaining me. Never mind the fact that I was angry. Terrified. Ashamed.

Then along came prince charming. A wonderful man. Godly. A pastor for crying out loud! So now, now I had a shot to really show how good I could be with the right support behind me. Except, he was completely unsupportive of all my efforts to make our life look perfect. To do more than was reasonable. To be impressive to the church folk. It was so infuriating! Didn’t he see how I was helping him? I remember bursting into tears in a mexican restaurant after church one Sunday, saying, I need a vacation from my life! That was the crossroads for me. Somewhere in between bites of chips and salsa something had burst open inside me and it would never go back. Slowly, very kindly, God began to show me who I really was, why He needed to save me and where I would have been without Him.

Codependent, needy, fearful, prideful and outrageously, completely loved by Him. What? I hated it, kind of. You mean, I have to drop the belief that I have earned all this with my good behavior? Then what in the world have I been killing myself being so perfect for??!

Ah, but like a woman trapped in a suit of armor, every little part of my heart that God began restoring wanted to burst with the goodness of the truth: I was loved completely because of who God is, not who I am. It was like a freedom song I had been belting out from behind prison bars when the door flung open! It’s been a lot of years since that moment in the Mexican restaurant. I still get mad when I have to admit I’m not as good as I want to believe I am. Tonight I came home from work grumpy. I hid out in my bedroom and watched 5 episodes of Parenthood. Because sometimes I don’t like being 40 and having so much responsibility and I want something more exciting. And I know it’s petty and ungrateful and not at all like something Jesus would think or believe. And then I get mad when I have to admit, I’m not good. But oh, He is! He loves me in my pettiness and selfishness and insecurities. He loves me in my strength and gifting and healthiness too. The beautiful point is He doesn’t love me because of what I do or don’t do. He loves me because of what He did and who He is.

 

 

 

The fear of being normal, and other obstacles to living an extraordinary life

I have teenagers so I am abundantly familiar with the constant posting to the various social media outlets. It’s fairly normal for a huge chunk of adults, me included, so this is no slam on the teens. I, personally, cannot stop myself from filtering every single photo through Instagram. Lately as we’re busy “posting” our lives I notice something we all seem to have in common: somehow everyone’s life is so unusual and glamorous and constantly hilarious. It’s like our lives are a series of SNL sketches mixed with poignant stories and inspirational “real” moments. All carefully scripted. All filtered beautifully. Cue the witty hashtag. The ever-present comparisons we make on a sometimes hourly basis, are skewing our realities. We, myself included, stand back and evaluate how impressive our thoughts, photos and anicdotes will seem. No one wants to be cliche, outdated or worst of all- regular.

What’s regular, you ask?

Here is my regular Tuesday: I got up on time and made breakfast for myself and kids and rushed everybody out the door with little to no humor, but we all got to our various places on time and I told everybody the same thing I tell them everyday- Have a good day- love you! – as they exited the car. And I drove to work and I prayed it would be a good day, and I did my job and the highlight of my day was somebody left some Christmas candy in the break room. And I came home to a messy kitchen and I made a pot of non-organic chili and we ate on chipped dishes and no one volunteered to clean the kitchen so I assigned it to one of the kids who griped all the way through doing it. My husband wandered off to watch football because his day was stressful and I really didn’t have anything helpful to say to encourage him, other than “love you” which he smiled about but still wandered off to veg out. And the kids went to bed and I started the laundry and then went to bed and I was thankful enough, but not particularly thrilled by any part of the past 18 hours.

Nobody wants to post that as a status or tweet about it- but it’s life. And we have come to fear it; that our normal, regular life is getting in the way of being extraordinary. That at the end of our days we will be thought of as a person who wasted their talent or never lived up to their potential, or had no cool factor at all.  But here’s the secret: being normal: being a steady worker, a faithful spouse, a mediocre cook or a nominally funny person has no power to keep you from living an extraordinary life. The extraordinary life comes from valuing the things God values and loving the way Christ loved. Often the regular things in our day are the very opportunities to live beyond regular. When I get up and wake my children and help them find socks and pack lunches and I extend kindness when I would rather be grumpy and mope into my morning coffee- that creates a culture in my family of sacrifice and kindness. Two things this world runs desperately short on. And when I do laundry and run the car pool and keep groceries in the fridge week after week, it creates a sense of security and faithfulness– two more missing elements in many people’s stories. And when I am respectful of people I don’t agree with, who are ignorant or annoying or socially awkward, and I ignore the discomfort I feel but focus on the dignity of the person- I am becoming more like Christ, “who being in very nature God- did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant.”

We all talk and even bemoan the fact that social media creates comparisons and pressure to “live up” but equally scary to me is the fear of just being a normal person. The whole point of our testimony about Christ is I am not all that amazing– in fact, I’m actually quite sinful and weak- but Christ….. He is strong and good and holy and righteous. And because He is and was all those things, he offers them to me. So I can quit trying to impress you. I can quit being afraid of being a nobody, because I’m already loved and accepted by the most important somebody who ever was. And then, when I know that, I can live in the extraordinary way He did- loving everyone, humbly serving, fighting for justice….. and unloading the dishwasher and returning a call and balancing my checkbook.

Lava Lamps and Women

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The longer I’m married the more clearly I see I am like a lava lamp and my husband is like, well, a regular lamp. (For the purposes of this analogy only. Not trying to impune his originality or creativity. In case he reads this.) So a regular lamp is only “on” when you turn it on. Otherwise it’s off. Very straightforward. It shines at one level of brightness, or is completely dark. A lava lamp on the other hand has all these globs of who know’s what (?!) floating around in varying stages of light and it changes constantly. Kind of mesmorizing but also, not exactly the best light to say, read or sew or look for your missing birth control pill that fell out of your hand onto the floor (happened this morning).
So, in my world, when I start off my day it’s like turning on my lava lamp brain. All these pieces of information begin moving around in my mind bumping into each other and sometimes combining into new ideas. One thought sparks another, often unrelated to the current thought at hand, and I just add to the globs as the day goes on. So, if for example, I’m thinking about “did I remember to send in Klynt’s football forms”, it leads to “I’m going to have to change my counseling hours when football season starts so I can be at the games”, which leads to “what am I planning for dinner tonight”. (Because last year during football season, planning dinners on game nights was challenging.) Which then leads to a deeper thought on “whether I’m doing a good job balancing caring for my family and working” and “do they feel nurtured” and “are we really sharing meals together the way I believe is good”.
And all this goes on between the time I wake up and pour my first cup of coffee.

 

Enter my husband, sleepy and non-globby brained who is, at the moment, thinking “Breakfast“. He then asks, “do we have any of that good juice left that I liked?” It’s really an innocent question, but unfortunately for him he just threw a blob in my lamp that hit my last thought about not knowing if my family feels nurtured. New blob: defensiveness. “Well, we would have more but our grocery budget only stretches so far and I told you if you’d drink a little less we wouldn’t run out.” Poor guy just wanted a glass of juice. He looks at me like I’m sort of cute and cranky and continues about the process of breakfast. My husband is unfailingly patient.

Meanwhile 3 new blobs have appeared including: guilt “I was being defensive for no good reason”, time “I have got to get Emma moving or we’ll never get out the door” and football forms have reappeared “must ask Klynt if I gave him the forms”. Now that I’m more awake the blobs get brighter and move around faster, but they’re all still there. In fact, that little blob of guilt will reemerge when I see my husband later that evening. Now here’s the proof that he doesn’t carry all his thoughts about everything he is connected to all day in his brain: when I apologize for being defensive in the morning, he will inevitably ask “for what?” Every time. He had turned that thought off as soon as he finished breakfast: “Cranky wife” was replaced with “Shower and Get to Work”, and it never reappeared. I love this about him for many reasons.

Thankfully, the Lord is always moving around in my mind as well. Reminding me which blobs to throw out, which ones to pay attention to and that he created me this way for a good purpose.