Swimming

boardwalkI have a deep love for the Atlantic Ocean born from yearly vacations to the South Carolina shore as a child. The wildness of the waves, yet predictability of the tides, holds great allure for a Midwestern girl like me.

Always a strong swimmer, I never fully appreciated the sea in all her strength until one summer when I was about thirteen. I was a little farther out and down shore from my family when I miscalculated a breaker and was slammed headfirst into the water. I tumbled over and over, as the waves tossed me nearly to shore and then pulled me back again. All orientation was lost to me and I had no idea which way was up as the mighty ocean dragged my face along the sand, only to pull me back and then do it again. Time stood still as I struggled, and wrestled, and swallowed salt water before I was mercifully spit upon the beach, exhausted and stunned, rethinking everything I thought I knew about swimming.

Three years ago, we embarked on the adventure of our lives to travel across the world and receive our son, on whom we had never before laid eyes. I read the blog posts I wrote in the time leading up to travel and wonder, “Who is that woman? So inspiring, so full of faith, so certain.” I barely remember her, but I wish I could be her.

Adoption, Bo, autism, medical complications…none of these are the cause of the hit my faith has taken in the last three years. They may have been catalysts, or it very well may be an easy starting point from which to mark time.  I set off on the this journey full of faith that God would see us through it, which is noble and true, and had I stopped there in my thinking, all would have been well. But, instead, I knew how God was going to see us through. I had planned it out for Him. All He had to do was follow the plan and do A, B, and C.

Only He did not do A, B, and C.

There were deep valleys, and hills, and wrong turns, and fender benders, and wild collisions, and cliff hangers. There was rejection, and isolation, and fear, and loneliness, and anger, and grief.

I embarked on this journey certain I knew how God worked. I had the formulas, the platitudes, the righteous answers all memorized. “There is blessing in obedience.” “As you sow, so shall you reap.” “All things work together for good.”

My Jesus was more cosmic karma than Father God. Deep in my core I believed that if I did hard things for Him, He owed me a good life. (Good, of course, meaning easy. I am American, after all.) So this wilderness in which I’ve been wandering came as a complete surprise and mystery to me. As one by one He stripped away my faulty core beliefs, exposing me to complete vulnerability, and in the process, raw pain, I developed my own scabs and callouses, a tough exoskeleton designed to keep me safe.

But carrying around a shell is a wearying burden.

I’ve watched my responses to other people as of late. My lack of empathy to those feeling stressed by what to them feels like a crushing blow, but to me seems minor, is startling. My judgmental sarcasm about those who have opposing views is unattractive. There is a hardness to me that mirrors anything but love.

I saw this meme and related to it, initially, before I recoiled. diamonds

I don’t want my beauty to have an edge. I don’t want to be untouchable. I want God to use my pain for His glory, so I can offer hope, grace, and love to those in the middle of it. I need to lose the exoskeleton or the diamonds or whatever hardness resides in me if I am to be free to do that.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Coming to Jesus and learning to be gentle and humble in heart is the starting point. I have no answers on how God works and very few on who He is. I’ll let my favorite quote about Aslan, the great lion in one of my favorite books sum it up:

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Much like all those years ago on the beach, when I realized what I thought I knew about swimming didn’t really apply to the bigness of the ocean, I now see what I thought I knew about Jesus doesn’t really apply to the bigness of the world.

I’ve finally come to the understanding that while God did not do it my way, He did NOT fail me. I know this because here I stand on the shore, shaken, bruised, and dripping, but ready once again to swim.

bowaves

Self Preservation, Heart Surgery, and Refugees

A new kind of war hit social media last week. Accusations flew, mud slung, inaccuracies were rebutted but then resurfaced, over and over.

This post is not about the response of the American government to the Syrian refugee crisis. We have no control over that other than to call and write our leaders with our own opinions and hope we voted well.

This is about our public response as Christians to what the government may or may not do.  

These are a tiny sampling of the comments from fellow Christians I culled from Facebook. It’s fairly representative of those that oppose Syrian refugees resettling in America, neither the worst, nor the best:

These are women and children who have been taught from infancy to hate Jews, Christians, and Americans. It doesn’t matter what the facts are concerning the make-up of the group. What matters is the culture of “death to America” which we are bringing here. That is a sad fact. But it is the only fact that matters.

If God has opened your heart to helping these people, feel free to hop a plane and go. Until people are willing to GO YE, don’t talk to me about opening our country to that type of violence. God has blessed my family with 5 children on earth to care for. Their safety has to be my first priority.

if you want the refugees to come here and then put them in your backyard in tents- all of them. Also pick up hitchhikers every time you see them and encourage your children to do the same. Round up every homeless person that you pass on the street and put them in your house every night. And while you’re at it release every prisoner from every Prison in America because apparently we can Jesus the evil out of them. Christians were not meant to be mamby pamby flower children- we are to use our brains to uncover the truth about evil

We are not talking about helpless women and children- a MAJORITY of these refugees are 18-25 year old men who grew up baptized in 1 truth… Those who do not submit to Islam must die. If someone broke into my house with a gun would it be more “Christian” of me to welcome him in for tea or do whatever I needed to to defend my family. These men are coming from devastated war torn countries with no respect for government or rule of law… What the heck do you think is going to happen when they get here and are told what they must do to be an American citizen? It’s ideologically impossible to impress democracy onto people who fundamentally believe that everyone should believe the same garbage they do or die.

Why isn’t such heart and love put into OUR OWN homeless people?! We cant help veterans but we can welcome alllllll of these fleeing people with open arms? Another question, why are MEN fleeing their country? Why are they not joining their military to fight for their country instead of running away to good ol America? It’s nonsense.

I am a Christian, but I am also a mother, I am not willing to risk my life or the lives of my children for anyone! It’s a risk and they should be denied!!!! Period!! America needs to start taking care of AMERICA!

So many logical fallacies, I don’t know where to start. Too many theological errors on which to comment, not to mention factual inaccuracies. Oy vey.

It’s been said repeatedly that we can hide who we truly are and only project an image on social media. While that may be true with parenting, financial success, or home management, it does not seem to hold water with actual faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we just post whatever gut thought we have or whatever sound bite has been fed to us by those whose ideology we rely on for “truth”.

Our underlying worldview is revealed in times like this. It becomes painfully obvious to all what beliefs guide our core. The world sees clearly what is in our hearts.

  • When fear for our own safety, stability, and comfort overrides our human response to the plight of other humans…
  • When we post hysteria based, bigoted, ego-centric comments without basic fact checking…
  • When we condemn those that disagree with our views with pride and venomous words…

It’s time to step back and examine our hearts.

So I did. In doing so, I admit that I have been guilty of all of the above, most obviously, bowing at the alter of being right. I love a good debate and I love to research, two things that mix poorly with social media graciousness. Did I mention that I have little patience for people who just blindly repost things without checking the source/facts? Clearly, last week was a tough week for the likes of me. (Sarcasm intended.)

I take the plight of the refugees personally. Maybe it’s because for the twenty-five years I’ve worked in healthcare, many of my colleagues have been immigrants. I have worked alongside people from the Philippines, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Jamaica, Mexico, and Africa. We have laughed over language and cultural mix-ups and shared each other’s lives, celebrated one another’s victories, and mourned a few losses. They have brought a richness and color to my life, to our community, and to our country.  I have been blessed for the experience.

In my book, refugees, immigrants, people are not a drain, but an investment. These folks, once settled, are productive members of society and often harder working than their American-born counter-parts. Their children are educated among ours and become tomorrow’s physicians, scientists, artists, engineers, etc.

But in thinking deeper, it’s more personal still for me. Perhaps it’s because, for all intents and purposes, I am parenting a refugee.

My son was rejected by his country of origin, denied basic civil rights, and faced eventual, but certain death had he stayed. He fled to the United States. Even though he posed a threat to no one, there were many Christians who questioned his right to come here.

  • “What about all the children in this country who need homes? Why wouldn’t you adopt an American child?”
  • “Don’t you have enough children? Aren’t you worried what this will do to them?
  • “Who’s going to take care of him after you’re gone? Eventually, he’ll be a burden on the taxpayers.”

All questions/veiled accusations I heard before we adopted him and many I occasionally hear to this day. And while I have sound, logical answers for all of them, they often fall on deaf ears. People believe what they want.

So when my fellow believers circle the wagons against “those people”, outsiders, those who didn’t have the good sense to be born in the United States, it hurts my heart. Because my son is the other. And while he will never read your words, I know many others will.

And that’s the problem with social media and American Christianity. We spend too much time circling the wagons against the “other” to preserve our way of life. This time it’s refugees, but there have been more – people whose brand of sin we abhor, those whose lives are in shambles because of poor choices, addicts who’ve been helped only to fall into addiction again, welfare recipients, etc.

And people are watching. Those who don’t know the first thing about Jesus read our gut responses  we so freely share, the mud we so liberally sling, and scroll past our ugliness disgusted or worse, confused.

They see our prayer memes and Scripture posts, but in moments of global crisis or political disagreement, they see walls of self protection and preservation of our own comfort. Our rights are the only ones that matter.  Loving our neighbor, ministering to the least of these, dying to ourselves… all of these take a back seat to self preservation.

And I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t understand the fear.  I do. Fear is so powerful and has stolen more of my life than most. Maybe because of that, I know there are so many promises from our God that directly address it. He has not given us a spirit of fear; when we walk through the fire, He’ll be there; Be strong and courageous; and on and on.

People, others, are reading when we post scared, judgmental things and it drives them away from Jesus. The reality is public policy will likely not be swayed by our posts on social media and most of us will probably never encounter a Syrian refugee,  but our neighbors who need Jesus may be turned off by who they think He is after reading what we have to say.

Can we not offer them hope instead of fear?

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self.

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.  

Can we take a breath and remember that kind of love when we feel threatened before posting our response on social media? Can I remember it before responding when I feel someone has spewed something asinine? I don’t know. I’m working on it and while my delete button has been used a lot lately as I reconsider pressing enter, it could certainly use more action.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45b

It’s not a social media or a keyboard problem. It’s a heart problem. Whatever’s in there is going to come out. So rather than just censor ourselves, I suppose we should allow God to perform a little heart surgery. I know I’m due and I think I know just where to start. It is a terrifying prayer, but one He has been ever so faithful to answer the few times I’ve bravely and sincerely asked, “Lord, please break my heart with what breaks yours.”

I have to warn you, though. The last time I prayed it, I brought home a refugee.

 

 

 

Silence the Ignorant Talk

I was going to jump into the red cup fiasco. I started a post last week after first becoming aware of the (non) issue when someone on Facebook shared this article from AllenBWest.com entitled, SHOCK: Starbucks accused of ‘Christian Cleansing’ after latest move… The move, of course, going with plain red cups this year in lieu of festive ornament, star, or snowflake laden cups as in years past for the holiday season.

Oh, good gravy. My eyes rolled back in my head before I even read it. It quoted an earlier article by many conservative Christians’ favorite news source, Breitbart, which quoted a British politician, and two people from far right Christian publications in Great Britain, all of which denounced the move as politically correct and anti-Christian.

The comments were outraged and predictable with people calling for boycotts or telling baristas their name is “Merry Christmas” to get it back on the cup.

rainbowcupBut very quickly, reason prevailed as more and more and more people spoke out on social media about how ridiculous the whole thing really is and how many other things actually matter. You would be hard pressed to find one Christian who is actually upset about Starbucks having plain red cups, at this point.

This week, the tide turned the other way and now I’m seeing an interesting twist in which I moan, “Oh, good gravy,” again.

I see many people speculating, as they are only seeing folks denouncing red cup boycotts, that the whole thing was started by the media to make all of us Christians look bad. Groan. Why? Why must there always be someone out to get us? Where does that fear come from?

Here’s the thing. Red cup outrage was started by the media, but not by that media. It was started by the right-wing media designed to give us a boogey man to loathe and fear which is the primary agenda of Fox News, Breitbart, Western Journalism, etc. They do it because it works. It keeps us coming back which keeps their click counts and ratings up and makes them lots and lots of money.

But for the Christian, it’s dangerous. It alters our perception of the world. It changes the way we view our neighbors. It distracts us. It will consume us.

In the middle of the red cup mess, my teen daughter came home from a weekend away. She recounted her experiences and she gripped me with this story.

Mom, I met this boy, *Caleb. We had to take him home after everyone left the bonfire. His mom is in the hospital because she had a heart attack. He tried to play it off like it’s not a big deal. It’s not her first one. She has breast cancer, too. His little siblings are staying with other relatives but he’s old enough to stay alone, so he is. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. His dad isn’t around. She gets out of the hospital tomorrow and a cousin is going to take him to pick her up. We prayed for him before he got out of the car, but there was nothing else I could do.

(*Not his real name.)

Suddenly, red cups and conservative media didn’t matter. Teen boys caring for dying mothers, feeling and being all alone changes one’s perspective.

For too long, we’ve been lulled into thinking that standing up for righteousness means demanding the right to pray after a football game or organizing protests to keep the Nativity on the courthouse lawn. We’ve been duped into believing that righteous anger gives us license to get mad at people who disagree with us. We’ve somehow given the Constitution of the United States equal weight with the Bible and gotten America confused with the Kingdom of God.

Voting, carrying signs, expressing anger and disgust, slapping on bumper stickers, spouting our opinions…of course we default to those things to prove our “righteousness.” They’re easy.

Learning to lay down our lives for someone else? Living as a servant to all, not just those in our circle? Loving, valuing, caring for our neighbors as we do our selves? Not so easy.

Standing up for righteousness requires me to stop being selfish and to put someone else’s needs above my own. It means looking around for teens whose families are in crisis. It could mean I need to rake a neighbor’s lawn, take a meal, visit the elderly, provide childcare for a few hours, run to the store, phone a friend, send a card, pray with a stranger, sponsor a child, serve meals at the shelter, take sandwiches to the homeless, etc, no matter that my life is crazy busy right now and it’s the holidays and I am broke and I have a million reasons why this is a bad time.

It may mean I do something even more radical like adopt another child, donate a kidney, clean out my savings for someone else’s adoption, move to the inner city, allow a pregnant teen to sleep on my couch, or whatever else He’s put on my heart to do.

Standing up for righteousness is walking in love. It’s living with an open heart to love the needy, open eyes to see the needs, and open hands to fill them.

Frankly, it’s so easy to write these things, so easy to intend them. But really, in the hustle and bustle and stress of life, it is stinkin’ hard to walk it out. I don’t know if it’s my ADD that distracts me so much or if everyone has wonderful intentions on which they rarely follow-through, but I can tell you that the first list is really difficult for me. The second is a little more palatable for some reason. I guess because I am a visionary and prone to moments of grandeur, I am more likely to donate a kidney than rake somebody’s lawn. BIG I can do. (I’m great in a crisis. Daily irritants send me running for Valium. Go figure.)

But we can’t just do big things for people and call it love. Often the initial act of the big thing isn’t really love at all. It gets the most attention and glory, but doesn’t require nearly the sacrifice as the fall-out. One or two big things over the course of our lives don’t get us out of the daily sacrificing of love, I’m sorry to report. One and done is not in God’s vocabulary.

What does all of this have to do with red cups?

I Peter 2:15 says, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” No matter where the ignorant talk originates, all we need to do…is good. Be a light in the darkness. Love your neighbor. Let your graciousness be known to everyone. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Do nothing out of selfish ambition; instead, value others above yourself.

Silence the ignorant talk by doing good. There is grace for that.

(Oh, and just today, Breitbart is still calling this a “war on Christmas”. If you believe there is such a thing, I highly recommend this post and handy flow chart for your reference.)

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.

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

Coveting Freedom

I turned off the computer and went to bed, completely green with envy. Sleep wouldn’t come. One of my friends was jetting off to an exotic land on a missions trip with her daughter, and another on a tropical romantic get-away with her husband. Proof in pictures for both displayed on Facebook. I couldn’t stand to think about it, but could think of nothing else.

My discontent had been brewing for weeks.

While I adore these children God has entrusted me with, there is no denying that the special needs life can be trying. I had been focusing only on the trials.

Recently, the radio station I listen to has been encouraging listeners to call in to win a trip. Always up for a contest, I reached for my phone the first time it was announced. As I punched in the number, I suddenly stopped as awareness swept over me. I hit end call, instead. Even if we won a trip, we couldn’t go. There is no one who could watch Bo for an extended time.

The realization was a bitter pill. I felt stuck.

I ruminated on it every time the contest was announced. Discontent breeds discontent and soon I was wallowing in other frustrations.

I’ve long been a critic of how the majority of churches handle disability and special needs. Mostly my sense of justice wells up for other families as we’ve managed to figure it out in our own. How we’ve made it work lately is the “divide and conquer” method, meaning, I attend church (usually alone) on Saturday nights and then stay home with Bo while UpcycleDaddy takes the rest of the crew on Sunday mornings. I feel isolated with this system, but at least not spiritually shriveled like I did when I just stayed home all the time, so it works. Except when I am sick or injured and can’t watch Bo, like yesterday, and the entire family has to miss church, all because there is no place there for our son with special needs. Then I get angry and frustrated all over again.

Then there’s the driver and the aide on the special needs school bus who feel the need to tell me every single time they see me that my son’s behavior is less than stellar and sometimes he spits or throws his hat to the back of the bus, as if I have any control whatsoever over his behavior when he is not in my presence. “Frankly, ladies, I can’t keep him from spitting when he’s in my own car! I have no clue what you expect me to do about it,” I want to scream at them, but instead I smile sweetly and say, “Yep. He can be a stinker.”

Or what about the family vacation planned that is getting nearer? Unlike last year, I’m determined to limit panic attacks and to increase sleep. To that end, I’m shopping for a pup tent for Bo to sleep in to keep him contained as he wandered the house at all hours last year. He couldn’t figure out the lock to escape to the beach, but we didn’t know if the skill would suddenly emerge and whenever I did fall asleep, I had nightmares of him being claimed by the waves. We are also investing in stick-on door alarms. The entire family is looking forward to this trip with the lone exception of me, who can only conjure up fear of the dark hours, not knowing if my tricks to keep him safe will work.

So glimpsing the apparent carefree travel of my friends was my undoing. Watching them just fly away unfettered and pursue adventure, left me dealing with the sin of covetousness. I called it what it was there in the dark as I was trying to sleep. I knew perfectly well that I was breaking one of the Ten Commandments with my envy. But I didn’t know how not to covet in that moment. So I whispered:

God, this is not who I want to be. I want to be the encourager, the one who rejoices when her friends rejoice. Your Word says that you will make a way of escape when we are tempted. Forgive me for being covetous of their freedom and their opportunities. Show me a way out of this. Change my heart.

And then I slept.

Until about 2:30 a.m. when the incessant banging of the boy woke both of us up. Have I mentioned that Bo doesn’t sleep much? He slept the first two months of this year and then resumed old habits. We don’t know why he started sleeping and we don’t know why he stopped. It’s maddening. He thumps much of the night. We know him well and can interpret the thumping. There’s the soft, rhythmic thud, thud, thud that tells us he’s rocking his “Moochie cow” and banging his head on the padding we have covering the walls around his bed, and would be irritated if we interrupted. This wasn’t that. This was the loud, insistent kicking the wall between the padding letting us know that he needed something. This time it was a drink. After UpcycleDaddy got him a cup and went back to sleep, I listened to him settle into the other thump he does so well, the “I-don’t-need-anything-but-I’m-awake-and-you-should-be-too” banging. I let it go for about an hour. Finally, I brought him into bed with me. No reason everyone should be awake.

As soon as I climbed into bed after him, he snuggled in close, with his head on my chest and his leg around my middle. He started grinding his teeth, so I lightly stroked his face and he stopped. Soon his breathing deepened and he was sound asleep.

There, in the quiet of the night, listening to him breathe, I was overwhelmed with emotion – love, certainly, for this little one who accepts me so fully as his own; sadness, a little, that I wasn’t there to do this for him those early years, that no one was; but mostly gratitude, that this is the life I was given. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed again, this time with thankfulness and joy. I get to mother this boy. I was sent to do this! What an adventure I am living just in that!

I’m so happy for my friends. Given the opportunity, I would totally jet off to a romantic island or a mission adventure. But that is not my life right now. And my life is good! I so needed the reminder.

And tears of gratitude, too, that even in my ugliness, in my jealousy and self-pity, there is sweetness and gentle redemption. God draws near, gives me eyes to see, and changes my heart. He shows me there is grace even for that.