Mother’s Day: A Snapshot Of Reality

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My dear children, I feel the pains of birth upon me again, and I will continue in labor for you until the Anointed One is formed completely in you. –Galatians 4:19

If St. Paul can know what it’s like to birth and raise children from a spiritual standpoint, I think all of us can celebrate Mother’s Day without shame or regret.

Mother’s Day looks great in a greeting card.  But, real life rarely looks so functional and pretty.  A friend of mine and I privately came up with ‘honest’ Mother’s Day card sentiments.  Things like: “Happy Mother’s Day to my mom who taught me to feel so guilty in life.  My therapist thanks you!”  Or: “Thanks, Mom, for exemplifying a strong woman to me.  A woman of strong character and fashion sense.  It’s not every woman who can pull off a red flowered shower cap in a motel swimming pool.  My therapist thanks you!”

…DISCLAIMER…

NONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED SENTIMENTS HAVE ANY BASIS IN MY OWN UPBRINGING.  

I LOVE YOU, MAMA!

And now, with my 3 adult (well, semi-adult) children, they give me some fodder for ‘honest’ sentiments.  My just-married daughter has multiple commitments today and my older son has finals that he has to study for, so I’m told we’ll celebrate later in the week.  But, my 19-year-old son will live in infamy for many years to come.  Here’s the conversation:

Son: I have to work on Mother’s Day.

Me: Seriously?!

Son: Yeah.  The restaurant expects a lot of people to come in with their moms to celebrate.

Me: REALLY? Huh! 

Son: (looks at me completely perplexed) Oh, did you want to do something?

*sigh*

Yes, Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, sacrifice, love, and give companionship to others.

I hope for those that feel the weight of this day, you will find comfort in this prayer I found online by Amy Young.  Often, churches overlook the many stories of the Bible’s women.  At least today, find yourself a hero in one of these women who understood whatever circumstances you walk in.  May you feel encouraged that God doesn’t overlook your story.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Living Christmas All Year

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Jesus speaking: ‘The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance’–John 10:10. 

I’m not sorry to say goodbye to 2014.  The last few years have seen a plethora of difficulties and life-altering events.  A friend of ours once told me that he believed I must be in God’s ‘special forces.’  He noted that I tended to do spiritual search-and-rescue missions for people’s souls and spirits.  And I don’t give up.  In some ways, he may be right.  I don’t fear hell on any of the levels I’ve experienced in my own life or the lives of others.  Oh, I ache, throw temper-tantrums, and have tremendous unbelief that I won’t heal from some of the falls I’ve taken; but I’m not afraid of what I may face in helping people see healing is possible for their hearts’ devastations.  I’ve seen depths of hell I know God never intended us to see.  But, in my own life and the lives of others, I’ve always had the confidence that God will show the way out of the maze to His light.

But, this year, I got bogged down in hell and lost my perspective of the abundant life Jesus promises us.  I became too comfortable living in the darkness searching for lost ones to embrace back into God’s presence.  And no one could find me … or maybe more truthfully–I wouldn’t let anyone know I couldn’t find my way out this time.  I’ve got the heart of a warrior when it comes to expressing who we are to God, and I go to great lengths to try and communicate God’s favor to all people.  When I think ‘church people’ are too theologically-focussed that they have begun bullying certain types of people, I want to go to war.

… And fight to the death.

… Because I know it won’t be my death….  

I’m learning that God can fight His own battles quite successfully and with significantly fewer casualties.  A gentle word … a kind act … is all I need to offer the war-effort.  No one can stand against those weapons.  And yet, no one’s spirit is crushed by them either.

So, as I reflect on 2014, I see how I viewed some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as an enemy whom I needed to destroy.  Living in the dark places with others will give that perspective.  I need to let Christ’s light shine on me again.  I need to live Christmas throughout the year.

What does that mean?

Christmas reminds us to look at the world as children–with awe, wonder, hope and expectancy.  I crave the world of childhood’s dreams, possibilities and unbridled joy.  Jesus’ birth created quite the stir; but then, Mary and Joseph had to get on with the mundane years of child-rearing.  No stars, no shepherds worshipping, no wise men giving gifts every year, no angels harking and heralding.  Just dirty diapers, skinned knees, colds and flus, temper tantrums.  (Seriously, do you think Jesus never threw a temper tantrum at age 3 or 4?)  And yet, in the mundane living, the promise remained.  In Luke 2, we are told that Mary pondered and treasured all the memories of Jesus’ birth.  I want to ponder and treasure all the memories I have of God’s presence–even when life is dull.

So for 2015, I want God to restore joy.  I want to gasp in awe at life, even if no angelic choir visits me.  I hope for a bright future, even if it takes years to grow up in me.  I choose to live expectantly, even if I continue to journey through the hellish mazes of people’s lives to offer healing and rest for their weary spirits.  I will remember to lift my eyes up more and let the warmth of Christ’s gaze envelop me, giving me strength and confidence to fight our real enemies of injustice, oppression, poverty–enemies that silence voices and create impossible standards and expectations of living.

May we all experience the joyous abundance of Christ’s presence in our lives in 2015!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Where Beauty Blooms

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“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end”  Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus.  Three women bonded for life.  Only they know the incomprehensible 11 years they survived.  I can’t imagine the courage they mustered to face Ariel Castro at his sentencing hearing this week.  The last victims of the Boston Marathon bombings have left the hospital.  Strangers bonding over survival and physical therapies that only they comprehend.  Soldiers returning from various conflicts in the Middle East with military honors and PTSD form a brotherhood of experience that their families don’t quite grasp.

We think of these people and their stories and laud them as heroes for surviving inhumanity at its worst.  I wonder how many of them feel heroic?  How many of them wish they felt as heroic as people hold them up to be?  How many of them want to scream, “That’s not me!  I’m scared!  Confused!  Broken!”?  While I haven’t experienced the level of trauma that these people face, I have my own ugly stories of trauma that may offer a little hope.

I remember telling my best friend from high school about the trauma of a 5 year abusive church relationship and that one good thing that came from it is that it forced me into counseling.  I had finally reached the end of me and my abilities to cope.  Humbled, traumatized and having a thyroid that gave out because of the stress necessitated professional intervention.  At my first appointment, denial filled me.  I thought I’d go in there, tell my story, have my counselor validate me and all would be well.  About half way through my sobbing and probably unintelligible rant, an epiphany washed over me.  In horror, I stopped crying and cried, “Oh, dear God, I have to come back!”  My counselor incredulously looked over her glasses at me and calmly replied, “Oh, Honey.  Yes.”

Going each week to my appointment, I fought back panic attacks.  Most of the time, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme mocked me, “Humpty Dumpty sat a on a wall.  Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  I knew I would never recover.  No one could save me.

Then, it happened.  About 6 months into my recovery, the mocking rhyme repeating over and over in my head, I practically screamed in my car for God to throw me a bone.  Okay, I actually screamed … and begged … and tried to cut a deal.  I hadn’t felt the presence of God in years.  I had disconnected from wanting to hear His voice.  But in my desperation, a tiny crack opened in my heart and I heard so softly, “The King can put you back together.”  That’s where my hope sprouted.  Maybe no human could save me, but God could.  He may use people to accomplish the healing; but the healing came from Him.  He planted eternity in my heart that day.  Oh, not gonna lie, all was not well after that.  Five years of intense work with my counselor and Jud ensued.  But, the hope began.  The forgiveness began.  Now, two years post-counseling, I can say I am at peace while I continue the journey.  I carry the scars.  I will always carry the scars.  The scars contain my healing, my wholeness.  Had the story ended eight years ago, I would have descended into fatalism.  My scars remind me to look on people with tenderness.  My scars remind me of human frailty.  My scars create compassion and empathy in me toward those just coming out of their ugly stories and those just entering them.

It takes a lot of work to turn a landfill into a garden.  The three women who must begin to pick up the shattered pieces, the bombing victims who must find it in themselves to rebuild new lives with limitations, the soldiers with PTSD who have to make peace with the nightmares, the adult who tries to make sense of childhood abuse all live over emotional and spiritual landfills.  But, their stories, our stories, don’t have to end in the decay of the garbage heaps.  We can allow God to set eternity in our hearts and wait for our story to unfold, believing that God’s ending is more beautiful than the hell we have endured.

I pray strength, courage and hope for all as they embark toward healing and wholeness.  May none of us ever settle for ‘good enough’ or a patch job.  Clearing the landfill of our hearts, planting seeds of hope in a future and tending that garden daily for blooms to appear are worth the effort.  Those hurting in our world are worth the effort.  YOU are worth the effort!

Where have you found hope to go on in the midst of your life’s tragedies?

 

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Dreams

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In second grade, I  read a book about Francis Scott Key and his poem that has become our national anthem.  The book enthralled me.  I remember telling my teacher, Mrs. Lash, all about it … for about 10 minutes … without taking a breath.  Finally, I paused a moment and she said, ‘Maybe you should write a book report about it.’  Whew, I’m sure she felt great relief.  Until I actually turned in the unassigned book report a day or two later.  From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Over the years, the dream of writing adjusted as I realized the likelihood of paying bills with that desire.  My plan entailed that I would write in my spare time and work in publishing.  After college, I would work at a small press in AZ, learning publishing from the ground up while getting my masters degree.  After that, I would apply (and, of course, get the job) as an editor at a big house in Chicago–Doubleday, Random House, Simon and Schuster–and work my way up to a senior editor position.  But wait, the dream didn’t end there.  I planned on applying (and getting) a transfer to a London office where I would work in the crime novel division developing new authors.  Of course the huge pipe-dream (because we all have those unrealistic hopes) was to win the Pulitzer by the time I hit 35 and the Nobel Prize for Literature at 50.  No one can accuse me of selling myself short….

In high school, I added winning Wimbledon to my list of dreams.  Never mind that while I won most of my matches for my team, I really hated practicing and did not have the desire to commit my life to the sport.  Regardless, my doubles partner and I would half-heartedly practice in the blazing Arizona sun, then break for a Diet Dr. Pepper (the just-developed soft drink at the time–yes, I’m that old.  I even remember when Diet Coke came on the market) and talk about life, love and dreams.  But, the writing dream continued and became a sort of ‘happy place’ for me.  I would have a winter vacation home in Montana–a large cabin by a lake with a huge overstuffed chair, lots of legal pads for writing (pre-computer age) and lots of books to while away the snowy weather.

So what happened to those dreams?  I fell in love with a man in the Air Force, we traveled to exotic places like Alamogordo, NM, and Erzenhausen, Germany.  Space Command didn’t send us to Chicago or London.  Jud worked mostly shift work and the high demands of military life didn’t afford much home stability when we had our kiddos.  So, I volunteered to stay home and give our children stability.  Now, everyone is grown and mostly independent (even though they still live in our home) and I can explore dreams again.

Except my dreams at 48 take a different slant than they did at 16.  But those childhood dreams help me remember my passions.  While I probably won’t win the Nobel in a couple of years and have yet to write anything worthy of it or the Pulitzer, I have discovered other outlets for those dreams.  Not working at a publishing house hasn’t stopped me from editing projects for friends and family.  Not winning prizes hasn’t stopped me from writing and growing in my ability to communicate through that medium. Just the narcissism has calmed down (I hope).

So when I read about the 3 Chinese girls who died because of the Asiana Flight 214 crash earlier this week, I connected with them.  Two of them were 16 (the age of the third girl wasn’t released; but she was a part of their group, so I’m guessing she was also a teenager)–the age when I believed I could be a rising tennis star.  I wonder what they hoped and dreamed for their futures?  What they hoped and dreamed the summer camp they were traveling to would bring to them?  What did they believe was within their grasp that at age 48 would seem utterly ridiculous?  They won’t have the chance of looking back at their lives and laughing at some of their impossible dreams.

Feeling the need to memorialize those girls and feeling nostalgic for my own dreams from youth, I drink a Diet Dr. Pepper in their honor.  Being 48 and responsible for my health, I’ve given up sodas (diet or otherwise) this year (my mom will think ‘I told you so’ when she reads this, yet, I throw her the bone anyway); but I break my decision this one day in honor of those girls.  I raise my glass of Diet Dr. Pepper and drink to their memory and all the lost dreams of youth.  I may even go out and hit a few tennis serves this weekend and dream of winning Wimbledon someday–just because I have life and can still dream.

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Ah, Youth

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Many adults say that they can’t relate to teens.  Many adults are afraid of teens.  Sometimes, we adults wonder why teenagers think we are ridiculous?  Perhaps the question we need to ponder is, “Why do we think teenagers are ridiculous?”

Graduation season is upon us.  I’ve got 4 youth girls that I’ve watched grow through tough times and amazing times over the past 4 years.  As I write out their graduation cards and smile at their future, I remember why I love working with youth.  The energy, the passion, the joy and effervescence!  Not the drama–never the drama.  Not even when I was in high school did I deal well with the drama.  BUT, this post CELEBRATES our next generation.

When I worked as a youth leader, I figured out a few things quickly:

1)  Teens want adults to cheer them on.  They want adults who will believe in their dreams–even if they’re unrealistic.  They want adults to celebrate even small successes with them.   Those girls’ faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to introduce me around when I showed up at their recitals, performances, sporting events.

2)  Teens don’t care how old you are if you love them.  In my 40s, many of the teen girls gravitated to me.  They didn’t care that I grew up with their parents.  They only cared that I cared for them.  They listened to me, even though they wouldn’t listen to their parents who were saying the same things that I said.  It’s the time of life when kids want to find their own way and start to separate from their parents.  My own kids did–I was NOT ‘the cool youth leader’ at home … I was MOM.

3)  Teens want an adult to hug them when life throws them an ugly curve ball.  They want an adult to whisper that they may hurt badly now, but they will heal.  They want an adult to cry with them when life falls apart–even if it seems trivial in perspective to adult pressures.  They want their pain to be taken seriously.  They look to adults for stability and need us to express faith that even though today is unbearable, God can, and will, heal.

4)  Teens sometimes need just presence with no words.  I remember holding one girl when a dear friend committed suicide.  I remember spending time with her 6 months later when another friend killed himself and yet another had attempted suicide.  I remember there being very few words in those moments.  Ecclesiastes 3:7 offers wisdom, “A time to be silent and a time to speak.”  In the moment of crisis, often teens need adults who feel no shame in their tears.  A time comes to offer hope, prayer and reassurance; but there is a time to simply feel and empathize.

5)  Teens want to believe in the wonderful, the miracle, the hope of life.  They want to believe in God and that He loves us.  They want to believe they are part of something bigger, better, more than just high school.

6)  Teens want to be wanted.  They love it when youth leaders spend time with them.  My daughter recently took a middle schooler out to an educational store and they played with puppets to the delight of both of them.  The youth girls I mentored never said, ‘No,’ when I asked if they wanted to go to Starbucks or get some ice cream–and they didn’t want to leave quickly; they wanted to linger and share their thoughts, ideas and passions.

7)  Teens want respect.  They want an adult to listen to their views without belittling or condescending to them.  They want intelligent conversations that challenge without patronizing.  They want to grow in understanding their world and how to solve the world’s vast problems.

8)  Teens want adults who can laugh with them, laugh at themselves and enjoy life!  Not everything is a learning experience.  Sometimes, we just have to cut loose in healthy silly ways.  Laughter reduces stress and helps us put our annoyances in perspective.

9)  Teens want to know adults are in their corner.  They want help getting up, dusting off and bandaging up.  They want to know that they may get knocked down; but they don’t have to stay down.  They can heal the broken dreams, bring into focus what they really want to do and even change up the dreams altogether.

10)  Teens want freedom.  Freedom to explore.   Freedom to fail.   Freedom without ‘I told you so.’

For all the adults out there, have you seen it yet?  Teens aren’t much different than us.  We’ve just lost some of the passion, energy and belief that we can change the world.  Cynicism infects us as we find that our dreams may not come true in the form we hoped.  Hang out with some teenagers for a bit and you will find that the passion, energy and hope may invade you to your core.  You may believe in your youthful dreams again and have the maturity, wisdom and knowledge to affect change in your corner of the world.

 

 

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