Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

Dear Square Pegs

I received emails and comments after this post telling me I’m not alone, many from people who have not yet found their way back into the church because of the wounds they’ve received at her hand.

Square-Peg-Round-HoleSo many of us simply do not fit the success mold for the stereotypical church member. We are proverbial square pegs trying to fit into round holes. We ask too many questions, we don’t fail quietly, we can’t keep the mask in place. We doubt, a lot. We examine what we’re fed under different lights. We look to see if it holds weight under changing circumstances or if it measures up against what was served last week or even last year.

Platitudes and christianese answers leave us cold. Tradition without depth and meaning, but just because that’s the way it’s always been, drives us to drink. Clean edges and tidy boxes are our undoing.

We recognize that the gospel is a scandalous miracle. We appreciate that humanity is messy and complicated. We know that if it looks too neat, it’s probably a lie.

We tried legalism and failed. It appeals to many, so, so many, because of its cut and dried nature. It’s something for the accepted masses to cling to in the uncertainty of life.

Do this, and this will happen.

And, maybe we failed at the first part, do this, because of lack of attention span and organizational skills, or because of laziness, or life. Time and time again, we couldn’t quite measure up to the expectations.

Or maybe, this didn’t happen, the second part didn’t materialize and we were blamed. Maybe not overtly, but the suspicion was there. Life knocked the wind out of us through death or disaster or disease or disability and everything changed. Our fellow church goers initially stood with us and believed with us for our circumstances to line back up with normal. When they didn’t, we felt a shift, a distancing. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but our lives challenged the certainty of rule-based theology. Our continued struggles in the face of pat answers, plucky verses, and rules that should’ve protected us from such tragedies, were too confrontational for many.

If you see yourself or your story in these words, fellow square peg, I have good news for you. Even though you have felt the outcast, the prodigal, the barely tolerated, the misunderstood, you are precious in the view of the only One who matters. The church, in their leadership models and hierarchies, may never get you, may never seek to understand. But when Jesus walked this earth, you are exactly who He pursued.

To the consternation of the regular churched, He went after folks like us. We are His people. “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT) The one thing we know for certain, you and I, is that we are not already good enough.

We have seen who we are. We have glimpsed depravity and we know what is within us. We know of what we’re capable. When people see others and say with pitying eyes and noses high in the air, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we look at the same scene with wonder. “Really? Because that has been me…that is me.”

We relate to the broken, the downcast, the hurting because we are them. They are us. We are the woman at the well, amazed He would speak to us. We are the loathsome tax collector, hiding in a tree to watch Him walk by. We are the unclean woman, squeezing through the crowd reaching out just to touch His clothes.

And Jesus sees us and knows us. He looks for us with longing, pushing past those who think they’re already good enough to find square pegs like us.

Maybe you’ve never heard anyone say it. Let me be the first. You are exactly who, you are exactly what, you are exactly right in who you are in Him. You are not too loud; you are not too vulnerable; you are not too full of doubt; you are not too much of a failure.

You are not TOO……anything.

square_peg_in_a_round_hole_by_wolfepawYou are what He wants. You are valued and loved and chosen. And, in spite of the pious, false humility, that oozed out of the pores of those who rejected you, dear square peg, you are the right shape for the job He’s asking you to do. You fit perfectly in His vision for His church, for His body of believers.

We are the folks He had in mind all along. Not the pious, not the pretentious, not the round, accepted masses of those who think themselves already good enough. Just the simple, screwed up, authentic few who can change the world.

Please know, square pegs, there is grace for us.

I Want To Be Used Minimally

For years it was a thing we in the evangelical church prayed over each other, or was that just in my church circles? As a young person, it was confidently pronounced over me as if prophetically. In Bible college, it was the unspoken goal.

To be used mightily. 

I’m pretty sure the intent was to allow God to move through us powerfully. Or, we were going to move in Him visibly. Or, operate under His power, or…something.

christianese1Christianese is tricky because if you grow up using the vernacular it’s difficult to actually define it when pressed. I’m not sure what “being used mightily” is supposed to mean. I only know what I imagined it would mean for me.

I had visions of grandeur. God was going to use me in a big way. I was to command a large stage. Lives were going to be transformed. Hearts were going to be changed. I was going to love large and lavishly and publicly.

Mostly, it meant I would be known. 

Can I just be painfully real for a second, here? There is a part of me that still craves some of that recognition. I don’t know if it’s the taking stock of middle age or the availability of everyone else’s success right in front of our faces at all times, but sometimes I think I’m not doing enough to get myself out there.

We just finished a series at our megachurch called Pursuing Awesome. I admit to getting a little caught up in the hype of setting goals, learning from failure, and working hard to go after what we want. The slick video that introduced each segment flashed images of people doing amazing things like climbing mountains, conquering waves, and winning championships. Each point was punctuated with a real life example of greatness like Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame.

I walked out each week convinced of things I should do differently.

I should figure out how to set my blog up to automatically post to Twitter several times a day. I should work to get more “likes” to my blogger page on Facebook and post there regularly. I should re-post articles I’ve already written for those who’ve missed them and encourage others to share them in hopes of a wider audience. These shoulds have been proven to increase success in blogging and even lead to paid authorship.

After all, success is what we’re here for, right? We can’t settle for mediocrity. I can’t live an average life. I want to be used mightily! 

Until I realized what I was hearing sounded less like a service and more like a seminar. The examples of “Awesome” seemed very much like the American Dream – financial success! publishing a book! job promotion! – and so very less like the Awesome I think Jesus would have us pursue – taking up our cross, dying to self, serving the least of these.

I was brought up short.

How many times in my lifelong desire to be used mightily or my Pursuit of Awesome have I overlooked an opportunity to be used, well, minimally? To love on a smaller scale, without recognition? To speak a word of hope and encouragement where only one could hear? To provide a hand behind the scenes?

I don’t want to be used mightily, anymore. I don’t want to Pursue American Awesome.

I want to be used minimally. I want to be content with the unknown American average, while pursuing simple obedience to God.

I want my eye on the only prize that actually matters. I want to be focused on eternity.

I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers. Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them, so that you can win. Everyone who enters an athletic contest goes into strict training. They do it to win a temporary crown, but we do it to win one that will be permanent. I Cor. 9:23-25

I want to be one who sees and responds to imago Dei in everyone, never losing sight of anyone’s humanity based on their color, behavior, ability, beliefs, age, finances, health, sexuality, gender, or attitude. I want to speak love, first. I want it to ooze out my pores.

In the middle of my anxiety and my brokenness, I want to continue to speak out against injustice done to some of them, no matter if the majority refuse to hear or even cause me pain in the process. I want to be a truth teller.

I want to be the friend that shows up with the grocery store bouquet and the listening ear, who wakes in the wee hours and slides on her knees to intercede, who bakes a casserole when there are no words, and who laughs until she snorts knowing you need that, too.

I want to be the encourager who says, “Oh, honey, you’re doing great! Mine was a hellion at that age. At least he’s wearing shoes!” to the struggling young mom in the grocery store while I help her load her bags.

I want to let my nursing home residents greet me with big hugs and wet kisses, not because they’ll remember, but because, for a brief moment, it will bring them joy to do so.

I want to give until it hurts (and not just tickles a bit) to those adopting, those serving in children’s homes, those working for 20150208_155036family unification, and those providing temporary shelter because that is what I say I’m about and, for crying out loud, it’s written on my arm!

I want to deny my own selfishness and do the normal loving of my big family, too. I want to review spelling words with the kid with an intellectual disability who thinks “p-o-o-p” is the funniest answer every time, and put down my phone to watch yet another cat video with my animal lover, and ooh and ah over the thousandth masterpiece today from the four-year-old. I want to clean up craptastrophes with a sense of humor and less foul language and really engage with my ten-year-old about whatever it is he talks about. (Clearly, I have this category sewn up.)

I want to be the neighbor who shows up with cookies to welcome you when you first move in, who brings the chainsaw waves as her husband goes over with the chainsaw when you have a downed tree, who embraces the neighbor kids even though they throw the rocks out of my flowerbed.

I want to love lavishly and boldly, even while privately, not because I should, but because I can’t help myself. He loved me, first.

It doesn’t have to be mighty to be holy; it doesn’t have to be Awesome to be ordained.

Sometimes all I need to do is just show up and actually act on my good intentions. I have to put down my phone and engage. I have to get off the couch and be present. It will never make it into a slick video. No one may ever acknowledge the effort, but it so counts. It matters. My “success”, our success as followers of Christ is only measured in our obedience to Him.

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.

Loving like that may be minimal and way less sexy than Awesome, but it’s right, and good, and true, and well, commanded. (I contend that Pursuing Obedience is a whole lot harder than Pursuing Awesome, but that’s a post for another day.) This is who I want to be – one used minimally for the sake of Jesus. Mightily and Awesome aren’t even on my radar.

And I have tons of grace for that.

When Little Outgrows Big

EonKJI worry about the day she outgrows him. They are best friends now, two peas in a pod, attached at the hip. She pines for him during his long school days and waits eagerly for the bus at the end of the day. He is always delighted to see her. She understands his limited speech and doesn’t mind that he calls her only “J” and not fully “KJ” as is her given nickname.KJ&Eoncornhole

He is big brother by only 21 1/2 months, but they help each other, she by zipping his jackets and other fine motor tasks and he by flipping light switches or door locks out of her reach. I’ve noticed other ways she’s starting to help, though. Turning on his show because he can’t yet master the complicated remote is one. Taking the lead in what games they will play is the more concerning other.KJ&Eoncow

As she has passed him in speech, fine motor skills, and tech savvy, she will pass him in maturity, as well.

And I worry. Will she still adore her big brother? Will her face still light when she sees him? When her friends replace him as a confidante, will he be heartbroken?

KJ&EonblocksWhat happens when she is given more freedom than he as her maturity exceeds his? How will I soothe that injustice for my boy and still allow room for my girl to find her wings?

I try not to let myself go there. The anxiety wraps it’s tendrils around my heart like a vile weed. I need to cut it off, to pull up the roots, and enjoy the now. For now, it is a love fest, a tight bond, an amazing friendship.

It is enough. There will be grace for later when later comes. 

KJ&Eonpicnictable

A Full Heart

BochairThis guy turns six-years-old today. My heart can hardly stand it. He’s been ours nearly as long as he wasn’t and I still well up to think about what that means. The magnitude of adoption leaves me breathless even as the mundane of it makes me shake my head. How can something so life changing, so utterly profound, be in reality, so completely ordinary?

As always, I remember with prayer his birth mama. May she be well today and know he’s loved.

I remember with huge smiles and much love and gratitude his foster mama today, too. I’ll never forget her showing us pictures of his third birthday. BobootsA picture of a cake flashed on the screen. Puzzled, I looked at Shawn, “Is that cake shaped like a shoe?” Clearly, I did not yet know my boy. But she did. And cared enough to make him a cake shaped like the one thing he loves best in all the world. I have no words.

He has overcome so much and continues to amaze and bless us each and every day. His new fabulousness is calling Shawn from the other room with, “Dad? Daaaaad!” And my personal favorite response to each request with, “Okay,” even as he fails to actually comply with said request.

BobusHe loves kindergarten and is thrilled to don his backpack and trot out to the bus every morning. He returns every afternoon with a huge smile. I think he was actually offended when we let him play hooky last week and took him to the state fair with the rest of the family. He would’ve much preferred to go to school.

We finally found the right meds for sleeping and he is thriving with a full night’s sleep (as are his parents). He has not had any recurrence of ear issues since February. Probably due to both of those, he no longer has negative behaviors that plagued him for so long, either. My arms are bruise-free, and the house has been mostly free from flying objects for quite awhile. BomouthHe’s still a little guy, but a recent growth spurt has him now wearing size 4T and looking quite the little boy versus the toddler he seemed for so long.

His therapists confide that he’s their favorite which shouldn’t shock me, but knowing the lengths we came to get here, really does surprise and delight me. BoarmThe boy who once avoided all interaction, who averted eyes from contact, who ignored all attempts at connection is now charming strangers with his sweet smile and knuckle bumps and it’s amazing.

I share our story in hopes that it might encourage someone out there to realize that maybe adoption is not the giant, terrifying leap you once thought. Maybe it’s just a conscious choice toward an incredible, yet ordinary life.

And maybe, without you, a child doesn’t have a prayer of experiencing a life like that. 

plattquote

Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.

Freaking Out and Doing Nothing

It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m ranting now and emotional and frustrated. This is not the time for rational thought and yet, I know that what I’m thinking is truth.

It shouldn’t be this hard! 

Educating our kids should not be so blasted difficult. I wrote a post here about our struggles to get Eon fully included in first grade this school year. I wrote about observing the first grade teacher’s classroom and talking to her about inclusion and peer modeling. She was totally on board with including Eon and had gone out of her way already to establish relationship with him so he’d feel ready to be in her class. His kindergarten teacher who was so perfect for him last year spoke very highly of her. We were ready.

Until the automated email I received right before dinner this evening, one week before the start of school, telling me Eon would be in a different teacher’s class. I hastily sent an email to the principal asking her if it was a mistake. Nope. Mrs. Fabulous had changed grades. Eon would indeed be in the other teacher’s class.

This new teacher is known to us already. She substituted for a few months during his regular teacher’s maternity leave last year. Eon loved her. She had zero expectations for him and basically treated him like a mascot. The work assigned to him was crap. The work he did in her class was crap. He got gold stars all the time for behavior and she raved about how wonderful he is. But she expected nothing but cuteness from him. He was happy to oblige.

He is not there for cute.

I feel like I worked my butt off last year to get the optimal plan in place for my boy. It was going to be a great year. One email and it is up in smoke!

So now what?!? There are other teachers at that grade level, of course, but I don’t know the first thing about them. Do we stick with the nice, inexperienced (overwhelmed), ableist teacher who may be willing to learn, or do we insist on changing and risk ending up with a teacher who is resistive to inclusion, making the year miserable for all of us?

And how the hell should I know?!? I’ve already been through this once over this very same flipping school year!!!

—————————— I wrote the above over a week ago. I chose to publish it because it shows how quickly well-crafted, hard-won plans can go out the window for our kids with special needs. I didn’t sleep well that night.

Life with special needs is consistent in it’s inconsistency. Whether it’s an educational turn of events or the return of a medical issue once thought conquered, this journey is rarely stable. I laughably find myself waiting for “things to settle down” sometimes forgetting how unlikely that is to even occur, let alone remain.

The trick is to roll with the punches, to be flexible, to have grace in the moment, to not freak out. Clearly, I have that mastered. Sigh. I feel like I used to be more flexible than I am now. Maybe there are only so many punches you can take? Maybe after you get so bruised you just fall down with the lightest of hits.

I admit it’s the other extreme at times, too. Maybe there’s only so much polite sparring you are willing to do before you just go for the sucker punch to end it. (Or maybe, I should actually watch boxing once in awhile before I put these metaphors in my posts?)

Whatever. My point is, I’m not handling the ups and downs well and I know why. I could blame it on lack of support. I tend to isolate myself when I feel stressed which is pretty much all the time, so I haven’t been reaching out to my local tribe of friends. Recently, I lost a great group of supportive online friends with my views shared in this post, in a mutual parting of ways. Support that used to be just a few key strokes away is suddenly not an option.

I could blame it on my terrible self care. My diet is atrocious. This afternoon, while perusing the menu at Panera, I briefly wondered, “When is the last time I ate a vegetable?” I couldn’t remember, so I ordered a salad I didn’t eat. My sweet husband installed a weight bench with equipment down the hall so I could conveniently work out without excuse. It makes a great table for folding clothes. I’ve had a gift card for a massage in my top drawer for months, but I’m filled with anxiety just thinking about making the appointment. I’m a mess.

I could blame the busyness that life with a big family brings or the lousy Indiana weather this summer or the fact that I can’t slow down the racing clock no matter how hard I try. But the truth is, none of these is the actual problem.

I don’t run to my Savior in the storm. I try to walk on the water alone, to battle the waves on my own strength, until soon my head slips beneath. I was never meant to face this life that is beyond me, alone.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Nothing. Nothing productive, nothing of value, nothing helpful. I waste so much time apart from Him. I do nothing.

——————————— After emailing back and forth, our principal called me Friday morning. I had shared with her last year my thoughts on the substitute teacher. Before I could say anything, she assured me that she’d spoken to her specifically about Eon. “I’m not sure I used the word ‘mascot’ but I think I probably did because it did a good job conveying how you felt he was treated.” She convinced me that the teacher, while inexperienced, is very talented and willing to learn. Together, she was sure we could turn her ableist mindset around.

In the end, we decided to stick with the inexperienced teacher who really likes him, hoping we can train her to teach him. When I told Eon who his teacher will be, he pumped his fist and exclaimed, “YES!” He may be a lazy kid, but he’s smart.

She has since communicated with me several times and is very enthusiastic and on board with our approach for him. He has loved the first few days of school. If I can remember where to turn when things go awry, I think it will be a good year.

Abortion and The Myth of the Unwanted Child

Abortion. The topic immediately polarizes. Hackles are raised and you, as a reader, are waiting to be either irritated or relieved by what I’ll say next. Am I on your side or am I wrong? Because in this politicized, highly sound-bitten world, sides are what we’re left with in discussing individual lives and impossible choices.

It shouldn’t be.

I’m very open about being a follower of Christ. I have personally been on the receiving end of eight positive pregnancy tests and given birth seven times. It should surprise no one that if I had to choose a side it would be pro-life.

And yet, I almost cringe at that moniker, so filled with loaded political baggage I am loathe to embrace. Author Rachel Held Evans wrote a post a few years ago on this topic. While I disagreed with some of what she wrote, it resonated strongly with me because of all I did agree with that had been previously unwritten. I get frustrated when the pro-life side seems only interested in banning abortions and actively seeks to undermine programs that would likely stem demand, for example free contraceptives, low cost healthcare, non-abstinence based sex education, subsidized childcare, etc.

But, I digress.

I want to address a pro-choice slogan that I hear bandied about that no one seems to dispel, on either side. That of “every child a wanted child.” The pro-choice side likes to insist that if a child is not wanted at conception, he is going to end up a statistic of abuse. The pro-life answer to this is “adoption” as if that’s always a happy ending all tied up in a bow and not a potential minefield fraught with complication, loss, and heartache all its own.

Abortion is in the news again and I keep reading comments that it’s better for women to abort than for these kids to grow up abused. Never mind the logic that death is preferable to abuse which must surely rankle abuse survivors, I want to know why we just accept that thinking.

Why are we all so quick to accept that women who are very unhappy to find the line turn pink on the pregnancy test will, of course, become unfit mothers should they carry to term?

Because that’s crap. 

Yes, children are abused. Miserable, sometimes sick and twisted, sometimes just overwhelmed and unsupported, parents abuse children all the time. It is heart wrenching.

But conversely, women are devastated by positive pregnancy tests all the time, and for various reasons, continue to term and simply become mothers. No negative statistics, no fanfare, no CPS investigations…just moms.

I’ve had eight positive pregnancy tests. Three of those times, I was very unhappy with the results. (UpcycleDaddy and I really stink at birth control.) My very first pregnancy was a complete surprise. We’d been married two years and I had mono. When I returned to work an older co-worker of mine asked how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling better, but the nausea was getting worse. She looked me in the eye and informed me, “Mono doesn’t cause nausea.” Oh dear. Surprise!Mickbikini

We were married, sure, and I had a good job. I didn’t want a baby then, but we wanted to be parents eventually, So we figured it out. Even though I was deathly ill and lost weight. And we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and I thought you had to have way more space for a baby (you don’t.) Even if I had believed abortion was an option, I doubt I would’ve considered it. But, never one to suffer silently, I expressed displeasure about pregnancy in general and that pregnancy in particular at every turn. Once she arrived, however, I was crazy smitten. My co-workers, reluctant witnesses to my miserable pregnancy, later admitted to being shocked by my sudden maternal joy. She was delighted in, adored, spoiled, and never abused. She’s eighteen now and will soon leave home to be an urban missionary with ServeSeattle.

The second unfavorable positive happened when our second child was only seven-months-old. Looking back, I now realize I had post-partum depression, but nobody ever talked about it then. The babies were going to be only fifteen months apart. I was reeling. I was already in a fog from the depression, and this sent me into shock for weeks. The shock returned when I went for an appointment at eleven weeks to find no heartbeat. My doctor allowed me time to miscarry naturally and it was so much more painful physically and emotionally than I expected. The amount of tissue and blood loss were another surprise. The guilt was worse. My theology was a little screwy in those days and I thought somehow my displeasure at the pregnancy had killed my baby. I named him Spencer. If grief is an indicator, he was indeed loved, despite my initial misgivings.

Our third unfavorable positive is now my Keturah Joy. KJsunglassesShe’s four-and-a-half, a spitfire of goof, love, and sweetness. I wish I could give a glimpse of her to my then-self, the devastated mama of six, sobbing in the bathroom over that pink line. Forty-years-old, I had given everything I had to the care of our sixth child, Eon, who was only fourteen-months-old at the time of that test. He has Down syndrome and had turned my world upside down with his diagnosis. I had only gained weight since his birth, and with all his extra appointments and therapies, I’d had no time for exercise. I was in no physical shape to carry a child at my age. Plus, Eon probably wouldn’t be walking before the baby came. How could I handle carrying him, too?

What would this do to him? He needed so much from me. A baby would take too much of my time, attention, and energy away from him. And, frankly, what if this baby had special needs, too? I was forty. While I was less concerned with Down syndrome, other, more serious or even fatal conditions terrified me.

Then there were financial considerations. UpcycleDaddy had his own business and we were barely getting by. Our insurance policy with the extravagant deductible did not have maternity coverage. How in the world could we do this? Plus, logistically speaking, our small, three-bedroom house was already at capacity. We had three girls in one room and three boys in another.

Every new thought just brought on more tears. I was scared. Scratch that. I was terrified. When I get scared, I often get angry. So, I did. God got the full vent of that. Weirdly, I don’t remember UpcycleDaddy’s response to it all, but I’m sure he got an earful, too.

My point is, I could’ve been the poster child for a Planned Parenthood abortion. I had all the reasons and they were good ones. I had all the emotions to go with them. I did not want that baby.

But, I didn’t have an abortion, nor did I consider it at the time.

I went on to have a baby. Even though my doctor wanted to induce at thirty-nine weeks and I bawled and fought him because, “I’m not ready and I still have another week!” (because, even then, I was scared.) She was not a wanted child in the beginning and by current, accepted logic, she should not be wanted, still. But she is amazing and deeply loved, wanted, and adored.  EonKJShe and Eon are best friends and she has been the best thing for him. She has only known love. She has never been abused. She is delighted in, always.

I’m not here to talk about banning abortions or to say that because I had a happy ending they will all be happy, amen. I’m simply saying that a woman’s feelings about her pregnancy during her pregnancy are no indicator of what kind of mother she will be. To say otherwise, is undermining her strength, her integrity, her character, and her maternal fierceness. And it offends me as a woman, as a mother, to hear it bandied about as fact that if a child is not wanted during pregnancy it should be relinquished, one way or another, because we cannot trust its mother.

I call bullshit.

It’s okay, actually normal, to be scared, terrified even, when faced with a positive pregnancy test. The fear of the unknown is an equalizer among us. All of us have it. Every pregnancy is the great unknown, no matter how planned. There are things beyond our control. Wonderful, amazing, terrifying things. Some of them are called “children.” We cannot know in advance exactly what blessings or challenges each will bring to our lives. We can only know with certainty they will bring both.

Don’t let either crowd tell you that you are destined for failure because of your fear. You are not. You can rise above. You can let love win. You have strength they’ve never seen. You have depth, and creativity, and resourcefulness and you can do this! Let me be the one person to tell you that you have what it takes to do this mama gig. Just because your child didn’t start out a “wanted child,” does not mean you won’t adore him later.

I’ve written and rewritten and erased these thoughts countless times over the last four years. I’ve never gotten them just right. They’re not right, still. But, I’m hitting “publish” on this post because it needs to be said. I’m tired of the lies that undermine us and tell us we are weak. I’m tired of seeing fear prey on vulnerability and win.

Because fear is always harder than reality. Because love really does win. Because you are fierce. Because there is grace for that.

Vows

Let’s talk about weddings. No, not about those. I already offered up an opinion on that topic. No, I want to talk about weddings in general, vows specifically.

I’ll tell you my bias right off the bat. I’m old. When I got married a hundred, er, twenty-two years ago, there were set vows that were repeated in pretty much every wedding.

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to obey/cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

The only real trend in that regard was to substitute the word “cherish” instead of “obey”. And we thought we were being so cutting edge.

A few years later, writing your own vows became a thing. As a writer, I think that sounds amazing. UpcycleDaddy gets hives at just the thought. Clearly, it’s not for everyone, but it has definitely become mainstream.

I think it’s romantic, and entertaining, and sweet, and personal. It endears those of us in attendance to the bride and groom and gives us a sense of who they are as a couple.

But, somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of what vows are.weddingrings

I’m not a marriage counselor or an expert, by any means. But I have been married a long time. And I like it. A lot. We have a great marriage! I think sometimes when you say that people think you lucked out. But the truth is, we worked really hard for the right to say our marriage is great. It didn’t just happen. So I do know a little bit and can speak with some authority.

Vows are a promise, a commitment, a covenant to your spouse and to God of what you will do during your marriage.

They are not a statement of how much you love each other. They are not a short anecdote of your life thus far. They are not a list of what you hope to accomplish or who you wish to become.

Vows are a promise.

Here are some examples of modern vows from the knot in an article titled “Real Wedding Vows You’ll Love”:

Danielle to Gregory

“You have been my best friend, mentor, playmate, confidant and my greatest challenge. But most importantly, you are the love of my life and you make me happier than I could ever imagine and more loved than I ever thought possible…. You have made me a better person, as our love for one another is reflected in the way I live my life. So I am truly blessed to be a part of your life, which as of today becomes our life together.”

Ryan to Tara

“You know me better than anyone else in this world and somehow still you manage to love me. You are my best friend and one true love. There is still a part of me today that cannot believe that I’m the one who gets to marry you.”

Yuval to Dina

“I see these vows not as promises but as privileges: I get to laugh with you and cry with you; care for you and share with you. I get to run with you and walk with you; build with you and live with you.”

These are lovely sentiments and very sweet additions to the ceremony.  But they’re not vows. 

Again, a vow is a promise made to your spouse and to God that you intend to keep forever. There is a reason that the traditional list is brief and non-specific.

Recently, I heard a young man vow to his bride that he will “dance to the music in your head.” That’s adorable, poetic, and crazy romantic. It made me smile on one side of my brain and cringe on the other. Because while the smile side envisioned them both waltzing like Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, the cringe side imagined him staring at her like she’d grown a second head while she, dealing with nasty PMS, had Guns N Roses, “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Kill Her” playing out her ears.

The bride, in turn, pledged to “always nurture your dreams”, which sounds so supportive. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens when money is tight, she finds herself exhausted staying home with three small kids, and he suddenly decides his dream is to restore an old Camaro. (Sometimes, the best thing a spouse can do is shoot down a stupid dream before it gets beyond a gleam in the eye.)

bouquetThis couple is not alone. Almost every wedding I’ve attended in recent years has included a lovely list of impossible goals disguised as vows. Promises no human being could ever hope to achieve.

The problem with having lengthy, specific, and unrealistic vows is that you can’t possibly keep them. You’ve set yourself up for failure at the start. Because, if you have nine unmeetable vows that you’ve already broken two months in, why bother to keep the one that really matters…’til death do you part? It’s demoralizing.

The truth is, marriage is hard and painful. It’s tough enough to stick to the basic, traditional vows, as boring as they may seem. But actually, they’re not boring. They’re basically saying:

I choose you, above all others, from here on out, even above someone I haven’t met yet that will show an interest in me when maybe things aren’t so great at home. I promise to hold only you, even when things are tough and we’ve allowed busyness and children and hurt to come between us. I will stick it out for stinky stomach viruses, icky colds, or even chronic illness or pain. I will be by your side through injury that leads to disability or life threatening battles with cancer or mental illness. I will be here when the bottom drops out and we find ourselves broke and hopeless. I will love you in a thousand different ways and I will try not to fail you a thousand more. I promise not to let disappointment in you, my own disillusionment, selfishness, boredom, unmet expectations, grief, or anything else break our marriage covenant. I vow to you that the only thing that will shatter our bond is death.

I have to wonder if the old geezers among us don’t bear some of the responsibility for the astronomical divorce rates when we don’t speak out to young couples. When we don’t talk about things like vows, or let them have an authentic look at a working marriage, or speak up about the foolishness of spending so much time/effort/money on a wedding and zilch on the marriage after, it’s like we’re willing them to fail.

Those of us with some experience, who have been there, need to keep it real for those just starting out. They need to know that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and empty promises. It’s work. Keeping those vows, is work. It’s harder than anything they can imagine, but it’s completely, unequivocally worth it.  

They need to hear that from us so that when life happens, and feelings fade, and these two people realize they don’t actually even like each other anymore, they won’t be quick to remedy their assumed mistake and throw in the towel. They’ll know they and their marriage are completely normal. Instead of leaving and wondering what went wrong, maybe they’ll stay and figure it out. Maybe they’ll choose to live by the vows, the actual vows they made once upon a time.

As they stick it out, they’ll find their groove. Twenty-two years later, when Guns-N-Roses is playing out her ears, maybe then he’ll laugh and sing along, and maybe he’ll even dance. Because when vows are sincere, attainable, and kept, there is always hope.

And for all the mess in the middle, there is grace for that.o-WEDDING-PRESENT-ETIQUETTE-facebook

I Won’t Take a Stand on Gay Marriage

It smells like fear to me. And fear mongering. I try really hard not to make decisions based on fear.

I’m a follower of Christ. I know many of you are not who read my words and the term “Christian” has gotten all kinds of bad press, some of it well-deserved. So you may not grasp what Jesus means to me. He’s the reason that we felt compelled to travel across the world to get our Bo. He’s the reason that, even after two years of sleepless nights, I was determined to learn to love that little guy. He’s the reason, the only reason, I succeeded and feelings finally followed actions. He’s the reason my heart weeps for the unloved and the broken and why I so desire to love the least of these because that is what He taught me to do.

He’s the reason that I hope, when hope is in short supply; why I stand when my knees are quaking; why I say yes when common sense says no. Because He has shown me amazing grace, I am undone. I am not who I once was and I know redemption is sweet.

Because of Jesus, I have a soft spot for the marginalized, those thought to be unequal in our culture. Those with disabilities, racial minorities, those with mental illnesses, and those who are gay.

A few months ago, I read this post about gay marriage by Glennon on Momastery and it resonated with me. I particularly loved this quote, ” I think if people don’t believe in gay marriage, then mostly they should not get gay married.” It made me chuckle and want to put it on a t-shirt. Her ideas on grace were spot on, as well.

It’s like we Christians love the idea of grace, but we don’t want it distributed indiscriminately- we want make rules about it and dole it out carefully and strategically. It’s like we’re worried that if everybody knows that she’s loved and accepted by God – it will be Grace Anarchy! I want that. I want Grace Anarchy. I want people to be free to be who they are. It makes sense to me that the free-er people are, the BETTER people are. I believe in people because I believe in God. I think God knew what God was doing when God made each of us.

I’m not sure what I think of her theology when it comes to homosexuality, though. Truthfully, I’ve been praying about and wrestling it through for months. My poor husband has certainly gotten an earful. I felt like I finally need to figure out what I believe about all of this. Now that SCOTUS issued their ruling, I feel like it’s time to take a stand, either way. I don’t believe that being gay is a sin. But gay sex? I really don’t know. An entire life of evangelicalism, years of Baptist primary school, a year of Bible college, and a childhood as a pastor’s daughter are not so easily shed. I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence and confusion. I want to rightly divide the Word of truth like it says in II Timothy 2:15. Freedom comes with truth. 

I then, as a seeker of truth, proceeded to read all 1,986 comments on the Momastery Facebook page about this post because I am also an idiot. I’ve also read numerous articles on both sides and the comments following since the decision was announced. It’s enough to make your head spin.

A few things jumped out at me. Those that oppose gay marriage, are the least loving in the comments. To be clear, I’m not talking about the trolls. I’m talking about those sincere in their beliefs who disagree. More than just disagreeing, though, they almost always take a slippery slope argument. If Christians support gay marriage then it won’t be long before pedophilia and bestiality will be the norm in the church. Or, they assume that, any Christian who agrees with certain Bible pastors that believe those passages that refer to homosexuality are speaking to non-consensual sex, has decided there is no such thing as sin…like, at all, and what did Jesus die for?!? I can’t tell you how many times I read, “The Bible clearly states…”

The fear is palpable.

And I wonder why. Why are we so afraid? Do we really think the world is going to go to hell in a hand-basket if we reason together? I don’t know.

In Glennon’s post, lots of people pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, only Paul did in the New Testament. Those that brought up the Old Testament were rightly squashed as none of us follow Levitical law. It can very successfully be argued that Sodom and Gomorrah was more about gang rape and has no resemblance to our current conundrum of gay marriage.

Those that agreed with the post pointed out that we are all sinners…and were rebutted that most sins are events versus lifestyles. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness for lying when you’re not married to the lie.

So what did Jesus say about marriage?

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32

Divorce is very common. People divorce for lots of reasons beyond sexual immorality. Most people who consider divorce a sin believe it’s a one time event that God forgives. But what about that last part? According to that, remarriage is a sin, too. What’s up with that? That doesn’t sound like a one-time thing. That sounds like they are in an adulterous relationship. How come nobody ever talks about that?

So, if you’re divorced, are you supposed to remain single for, like, ever?!? What if it’s too late and you’re already in the adulterous relationship of a second marriage? Do you get another divorce? I Corinthians 6:18 tells us to Flee sexual immorality. Living in adultery seems pretty immoral, to me. But what if the new couple has children together? Obviously, they can be forgiven for entering the remarriage, but then do they need to have a celibate marriage to keep from being adulterous?

So many questions! Honestly, it’s difficult to fit these words of Jesus into our current culture, especially if you’re one who claims, “The Bible clearly states…”

Second marriages and blended families are the norm, even in the church. No one bats an eye. I know very godly people who have been married for almost fifty years the second time around. No one refused to bake a cake for them or photograph their wedding, even back then, by the way. How come?

I don’t know what to think about Jesus’s words regarding divorce, second marriages, and adultery. I chose to use them as an example, but I’ve never really studied them in depth or wrestled them through. I’m happily married to my first husband of twenty-two years. That passage doesn’t apply to my circumstance and I don’t feel the need to take a microscope to it to measure someone else’s life.

I’m sure there have been studies and someone will tell me what Jesus really meant in that passage. If we look hard enough, we may discover cultural context or Greek words with different meanings than the current translations. Wait, that sounds familiar. All things those same people are denying others regarding passages on homosexuality, because, you know, “the Bible clearly states…”

Here’s the thing. I worship with people who are in second marriages. Half the time, I have no idea. But even if I do, I don’t care or even ever think about it. I serve with them at church. I go out to dinner with them, watch their kids, pray for them, let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else.

If it ever crossed my mind, I would assume they have wrestled that passage with Jesus and I would trust them to walk in whatever He showed them to do. Because I love them, I’ll let them work out their own faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and I will work out mine.

And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do the same with my gay brothers and sisters. The passages on homosexuality don’t apply to my circumstance. I’m not gay. So, I’m not taking a stand on gay marriage. I’m taking a knee. I will serve those around me. If they want me to bake a cake, I will bake for them two. (If they want me to photograph their wedding, they should reconsider, though. My sisters-in-law can tell you I’m not so good at that.)
sisters-in-law

So, I will gladly stand next to my gay brothers and sisters in worship or go out to dinner with them or watch their children. I will pray for them and let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else. Because I love them, I’ll trust them to work out their own faith with fear and trembling and I will work out mine.

But I won’t take a stand on somebody else’s life. Because I believe there is grace for us all.