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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What’s Your Line?

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Jesus speaking: “‘Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her'” –Luke 10:41-42 (The Voice).

This week, my almost-21-year-old son (his birthday is in a few days!) told me that his friends say I’m their favorite parent of all time because I did not ‘freak out’ over his getting his eyebrow pierced.  He’s not my first child to say this to me.  I have been the go-to parent for many activities.  My kids have never asked me not to attend one of their events (although I have refused many), and my daughter’s friends have suggested me as a designated driver (when they were too young to drive) for late night TP-ing pranks for the cross-country teams or to team events.  Since I have never been in the ‘cool kids’ group, it amuses me that the next generation thinks of my middle-aged self as a kindred spirit.  What separates me from other adults in their minds?  Am I better?  Oh, that’s just laughable.  Am I wiser?  I can bluff a good game, but I know it’s smoke and mirrors.  Am I prettier or more fashionable?  Yeah, no.  There’s a reason I don’t post my photo on my blog.  I think it’s that I remember what teen and young adult years were like.  I remember that all I really wanted was for someone to believe in me.  Someone to say, ‘You’re not crazy for wanting to follow a dream.’  Someone to tell me that the world won’t come to an end if I make a mistake or do something I would regret later.  Someone who would love me unconditionally and not let me face my consequences alone.  Someone who wouldn’t draw a line in the sand over ‘a million details.’

I wanted freedom with a safety net.

So, when my son told me that many of his friends and their parents think I’m an anomaly–the friends in awe of me, the parents thinking me crazy and too tolerant–I felt the need to offer a glimpse of what I have to offer.  In no way do I believe I have parenting figured out, nor do I believe that I’ve done the raising of my children ‘right.’  This post is not meant to shame, judge or condemn anyone.  Believe me, I have had many Psycho Mom Moments and have freaked out immaturely.  You may have another piece of the puzzle that I haven’t seen.  The point is that we stop criticizing each other and start playing on the same team!  Let’s work together to equip our children so that they will have a foundation to grow stronger and wiser in equipping their next generations.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself before you ‘freak out’:

  1. Is it life-threatening?  A piercing, a tattoo, a funky hair color or cut will not bring down civilization.  If they are 18 or older and don’t need your permission, be careful about withholding your blessing. I tend to *sigh* and roll my eyes.  My kids call me on this all the time–as they smile or chuckle.  Do you really want your line in the sand to be over something like hair? A young adult will process that thought to mean, If my mom freaked over a piercing, what will happen if I ______. We can squelch communication between us by our reactions to the little things.
  2. Is it immoral, or just embarrassing for you?  This one’s tough.  Some denominations have super-strict policies on personal modesty.  I cannot tell you what’s right for your household, only that I have researched and read all the Scriptures by myself and with others and have come to my own conclusions.  I invite you to do the same–setting aside the church party-line and really process what God is saying through those Scriptures.  Often, the choices of our young adults conflict with our own insecurities of what our friends, family and church leaders will think.  As a parent, my child should never carry the weight of my insecurity on their shoulders.
  3. Am I afraid of losing control over their lives?  You already have.  … (I’ll let that sink in for a moment) …  And if you feel that you have to resort to shaming or guilting them into compliance, you may have lost more than control over them–you may have lost them.  Recognize they are adults and will make some choices you would never dream of making.  You don’t get to live their lives anymore!  I would rather have a relationship and an open channel of dialogue with my children, than children who don’t ever want to be around me.  If you would rather prove to your children that your way is best, then realize that you may not have enjoyable family times.  You have to pick your battles–and every choice they make cannot be a battle.

Every year, my daughter has a Christmas party for the high school girls she mentors and several of her close friends.  They come over for a tree-trimming, homemade soup, Christmas movie evening.  Last year, a 15 year old opened a soda bottle and it exploded all over my kitchen counter and floor.  I looked over, laughed and got out towels to mop it all up.  All the girls helped, and the embarrassed girl was able to laugh … eventually.  One girl looked over at me like I was an alien.  She solemnly said, “My mom would not be laughing at this.”  It was soda!  Just a mess.

No one should have to live anxiously about making a mess.  Lighten up with each other! Lighten up with yourselves!

Have you figured out yet that this post isn’t just about parenting, but about how we treat others?  Do you recognize yourself in the parent or child role?  If we freak out over the smaller things in life, will we have credibility with the really intense things that come our way?  I’ve had hard conversations with teens and adults.  People tell me their dark secrets all the time because they say they know I will show them compassion.  I will hold them accountable, but I won’t make them confront anything alone.  If another person is involved, I offer to go with them to have the conversation.  Most of the time, I help them see the situations as a growth curve.  It may be life-altering, but no moment has to become your life identity.

If you must have a line in the sand, let it be over abusive ways, integrity issues, ignorance and prejudice.  Because we should freak out over character flaws that determine our world’s culture.

Certainly, we all need people to watch our backs and keep us from destroying ourselves and others.  I pray that you find your security in God so that you recognize when you or others truly need wise help.  

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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My Children, My Heart

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‘His mother continued to store these memories like treasures in her heart’ –Luke 2:51.

Last year, I celebrated all women on Mother’s Day.  This year, I want to celebrate my own life.  Jud and I have successfully raised 3 semi-adult children (well, more successfully than not).  ‘Proud’ doesn’t fully express how I feel about their burgeoning independent lives.  They all have awe-inspiring stories that involve growth-inducing challenges and, most importantly, live out their lives before God and others with compassion, grace and wisdom-in-the-making.

When I entered college, I didn’t expect to get married at the end of 4 years.  I had dreams of writing the ‘Great American Novel’ and taking the publishing industry by storm!  When Jud and I got married 3 weeks after I graduated, I knew a career in publishing was no longer an option; but I believed the novel was still in my sights.  I found, as the years moved on, that writing fiction didn’t enflame my writing passion like it had in high school and college.  So, I put writing aside and focussed on giving my children a stable, nurturing home while we lived the constantly changing military life.  Some would say that I ‘lost’ myself in those years.  I may have said that a time or two.  Looking back, I see a different perspective.

What I ‘sacrificed’ in those years led to relationships with my children that swell my heart and soul.  I’ve often said that as a parent, I’m constantly working myself out of a job.  I’m not the typical stay-at-home-mom who baked cookies, sewed costumes and made crafts.  Goodwill provided excellent costumes for most of the dress-up days elementary school years demanded.  I kept a craft box filled with old cards, glue guns and glue sticks, felt, sparkly glitter, stickers, pipe cleaners and anything else that caught my eye when I was at the store.  When my kids cried boredom, we brought out the box and they created masterpieces.  We watched old movies–especially MGM musicals–and the Doughnut Man videos while the floors dried after mopping.  We had picnics and beach trips.  I remember every new place we moved, the kids would ask, “Mommy, are we going to get ‘lost’ today?”  Which meant we would drive around unfamiliar neighborhoods and figure out how to get home.  Usually those trips involved milkshakes….  And we read stories and books.  I miss reading out loud with them.   Of course we sang, too.  With the singing came impromptu dancing …  Then the laughing would start … Till our stomachs hurt.  I miss those times too.

All the carpooling with cross country teams, track teams, club meetings created space for us to share lives.  It’s hard to have ‘quality’ time without quantity of time.  I’ve enjoyed watching them grow, mature and become more independent.  I continue to remember them as young children and wax nostalgic when I see them all grown-up; but the nostalgia can’t overshadow the joy that my job is changing in their lives.  This Mother’s Day is my last with a child in high school.  In a couple of weeks as he walks the stage to get his diploma, I will have graduated high school four times in my life.  An end of an era.  All of my children will officially be ‘adult.’  Gone are the days of homemade cards, dollar-store or garage-sale treasured presents, and expectantly hope-filled eyes looking for praise.  I’ll never stop being ‘Mom’ to them; but that relationship doesn’t mean what it once did all those years ago when I snuggled them, sang and read to them and spoon-fed them.

So today, I celebrate Em, J and Jon because they made me able to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I celebrate the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating who they are and how they transform in the future.  I may shed a tear or two as their lives persistently move away from mine; however, I know they remain in my heart and I in theirs.  And I know we’ve built relationships that will continue to bring them back home.  They know both their parents love them wholly and are on their side.  They know I will always be their ‘Mama.’

And they like my cooking….

I’d love to hear from you!  You don’t have to be a parent to influence young lives.  How have your views on parenthood changed through the years?  What are some of your joys/sorrows in watching little ones grow up?

 

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Psycho Mom Moment

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My kids say that I have a ‘crazy’ streak.  They don’t see it often.  Mostly it comes out when I’m putting our ‘fake house’ together about a half hour before company comes over.  They call it ‘cleaning mom mode.’  I go around clearing counters and the kitchen table.  Hiding piles of papers that have accumulated over the school year.  Clearing corners of shoes and other non-essentials stripped off after coming in the door.  Returning pillows and throw blankets to a casually-tossed, shabby-chic ambiance in the family room.  I create the ‘fake house’ that I want people to think is where we live.  ‘Cleaning Mom Mode’ is nowhere near ‘Psycho Mom.’

We need to establish a difference between ‘psycho moms’ and ‘psycho mom moments.’  I wouldn’t call myself a ‘psycho mom.’  I tend  to meet challenges in parenting evenly and rationally.  I tend to … at least on the surface.  However, I do have moments when my kids cross a line that infuriates me and I react–not respond.

Before my kids became grown-up (well, I could debate whether they really are grown-up….), I enjoyed the position of playing God.  That magical time ended about the time they could speak and learned ‘NO!’  But the few short years that they had to go where I went, hang out with those I let them befriend and go to bed when I determined they needed sleep were blissful.  Parenting was easy then.  Having a 22 year old, a 19 year old and a 17 year old all living at home complicates parenting boundaries.  *sigh*  I really don’t want to go back to toddlerhood, but the uncomplicated world of children who get excited over bubbles and squirt guns has its perks.

My 17 year old went out with his at-the-time-girlfriend a few weeks ago.  He had just started dating her; and while we had met her, I soon found out just how little we knew about her.  I needed to get hold of him because he didn’t know that our state curfew for teens is 10pm during the week (even during the summer) and not midnight, as I had thought.  His phone went straight to voicemail … for 2 hours.  No answer to the 372 texts I sent.  Realizing that I had no idea where he might be or who this girl really is, I went into ‘crazed mom’ mode and quickly plummeted into ‘psycho mom.’  As panic ambushed my rational soul, I took on desperate measures.  Because I read murder mysteries and watch cop shows, I consider myself a bit of an expert in detective work.  Yep, I’m one of those delusional people.  I think that because I’ve seen open-heart surgery on YouTube, I could actually perform that surgery in a crisis.  I think we should all pray that I never witness someone having a heart attack.  I looked up his girlfriend on Facebook.  She has a common last name, so I looked through about 15 pages of the online White Pages trying to figure out where she lived.  I remembered that he had told me the general area of town she lived, so I didn’t fly blind in my search.  I narrowed it down to three potential houses.  Just after midnight (now the curfew he thought he had, he busted … for the third time … the last time had been the night before … yeah, I wasn’t rational anymore) I enlisted the help of my 22 year old.

The conversation went something like:

“You busy?”

“No, whatcha need?”

“I need you to help me go get your brother.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve narrowed it down.”

“Why do you need me?”

“Someone has to drive the car he’s in back home.”

“Why can’t he do that?”

“Because he’ll be coming home with me.”

That last sentence scared her because I spoke it so slowly and deeply.  I don’t think any of my kids had seen my real ‘psycho mom’ moments before that.  I never had witnesses until that night.

Thankfully, the first house on my list happened to be her house.  I knew this fact because my son pulled onto the street right behind me.  He and I had a great lecture  discussion that ended with us hugging it out and assuring him that I loved him and forgave him (there’s more to this story; but it’s already a long one).  Suffice it to say, he won’t make that mistake again.

I wonder sometimes if God ever has ‘psycho parent’ moments with us.  Oh, I know He’s ‘GOD’ and knows all and has self-control and all that; but when I read the Bible, I see evidence that we can make Him a little crazy–especially with Moses in Exodus 22 when it sounds like Moses is talking God off the ledge, or when Jesus in several Gospel accounts saying it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and drowned if we hurt one of His little ones, or Abraham negotiating with God for Sodom and Gomorrah.  I take great comfort in that thought.  He loves us that much that we can make Him almost insanely protective.  He goes to great lengths to find us and help us see healthier, wiser, better options than the choices we make.  He loves us the way I love my kids–only better and more rationally.  He doesn’t parent out of fear–which, if we’re honest, that’s what vaults us into ‘psycho’ mode.  He holds us that high … He values us that much … He fiercely fights for us … Now, if only we could believe it about ourselves and each other.  We need to remind ourselves and each other what each of us is worth!

I talked to Jud the next morning about what happened while he slept.  A lot goes on at night with older kids while parents sleep.  Which is why I’m grateful that I’m a night-owl and suffer from insomnia.  We discussed the appropriate repercussions (for our son, not me), and Jud helped me see that grounding him from ever driving a car  and dating again went a little too far.  Rationality had returned to me and the moment had passed.

Until my daughter woke up.

She asked Jud if he knew anything about the night before.  Thankfully, Jud could say he knew and she didn’t blindside him with her version of my insanity.  Her final comment tossed over her shoulder to him as she breezed out the door about what she learned from this incident:  NEVER MAKE MOM MAD!!!

Have you had ‘psycho parenting’ moments?  What have you learned about yourself in those times? 

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HAPPY MANHOOD DAY!!

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Since I did a post celebrating all women and how we ‘parent’ regardless of our biological child status, it seems only fair to do the same for men.  I’ve had many men in my life who represent true manhood.  Let me define ‘true manhood.’

My father grew up in Manchester, England, with a father who typified Northern English manhood.  He was stern, distant and unemotional.  He died when my dad was 8.  My dad lived through WWII in England and survived the aftermath before immigrating to the United States.  He could have become a stern, distant man.  Instead, he embodied compassion to me when we visited relatives in Texas one year.  We always stopped in my mom’s childhood town to visit Elizabeth who cleaned and cooked for my mom’s family.  This one year, Elizabeth wanted to buy a used car and asked my dad to check it out for her.  Elizabeth needed a better car to take her ailing mother to doctor’s appointments.  My dad gave his ‘okay’ after looking over the car, then before we left Elizabeth, he gave her the rest of the money she needed to buy it.  When he and my mom discussed it, he said that he didn’t want Elizabeth to wait until she could save up the rest of the money–she had already made a couple of payments to ‘hold’ the car from the woman selling it.  My father embodies ‘true manhood’ with his compassion.

John Mark pastored a church in Alabama.  I’ve mentioned the congregation in a previous post–‘holiness’ people on one side of the aisle, AA people on the other side.  I can’t imagine how John Mark walked that tightrope and led such differing people!  He tempered the ‘holiness’ people with grace and gave the AA people boundaries.  Two pastors remind my heart that God really does make His home with us.  Tom, who married Jud and I, and John Mark.  Having the ability to make both ‘holiness’ and AA people feel accepted and at home while defending truth and grace, John Mark embodied ‘true manhood.’

My sons remind me that youth, also, man-up.  Both J and Jon have hearts that break for injustice.  I’ve watched them both stand up in different ways for people that society disapproves.  My heart swells with pride when I hear their stories and they don’t know how much their efforts mean.  Their hearts make their actions natural and without arrogance.  Their humility and natural way of living embodies ‘true manhood.’

And, of course, Jud.  His respect of all people and cultures, his openness to new thoughts and his desire to always grow in character, knowledge and wisdom makes me want to be a better person.  His ability to speak kindly and steadily has helped my impetuous nature become a little more intentional (no small task on his part!).  I remember one time, a friend asked several of us to offer counsel on a job opportunity he was considering.  All of us had vocal opinions.  Except Jud.  For about an hour, we all dissected the options from every angle.  It reminds me of putting a puzzle together.  We all had our pieces, but didn’t know where to put them–or even what the puzzle picture looked like.  Jud listened.  Especially to our friend.  After the lengthy discussion where nothing showed our friend clarity, we needed to leave.  But, before we left, Jud spoke amazing wisdom to our friend’s character and then proceeded to put all the puzzle pieces from the discussion together.  The rest of us, our mouths gaping, sat in silence and awe until he finished.  His ability to assess situations and speak wisdom into them embodies ‘true manhood.’

So, for all the men out there who have ‘fathered’ others–biological children, step-children, adopted children, teens, adults, and those of us who have yet to outgrow the sophomoric phases–I honor you!  Those of you who are unsung because you live your life quietly, with integrity and compassion, I applaud you.  Those of you who don’t fit into the ‘stereotypical’ mold of what a manly man is and haven’t always felt respected, yet you keep living your life by respecting others, I weep in gratitude.  For all the unsung men and all the sung men who strive to make our world a more just, kind, generous place for the coming generations, today is your day!  May you feel CELEBRATED!!

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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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HAPPY WOMANHOOD DAY!!!

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To all women who have influenced lives and helped shape the next generation, HATS OFF TO YOU!!  Today, may be called ‘Mother’s Day,’ but all women should be CELEBRATED (whether they conceived a child physically, through fostering or adopting, or mentored someone and helped the journey through life)!!  If we are friends, family, teachers or leaders in youth organizations, we have all ‘mothered’ children, teens and adults.

Thank you to all the women in my life who have made me the person I am today.  Thank you for your wisdom, your nurturing, your ability to challenge my thinking.  Thank you for your courage, your character and your depth of soul.  Thank you for showing those you influence how to have grace under pressure, how to grieve loss, how to rejoice with others and how to live every season of life with joy.

‘Mother’s Day’ doesn’t begin to encompass my wonderfully varied gender.  So I am changing the name to include all the ones who have mothered people in generations past and present, given a legacy to future generations of what it means to be a woman and have gone unsung and unnoticed by society.

YOU ARE NOTICED!  YOU ARE WORTHY!  YOU ARE LOVED!  ALL Y’ALL HAVE EARNED THE TITLE ‘MOTHER’!!  I CELEBRATE YOU!!

 

 

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Lessons Learned

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Most of my life I’ve felt sorry for my pastors and leaders.  I tend to ponder thoughts and ideas from every angle possible; but I do all that pondering inside, then ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Yep, I’m that person.  Trouble is, on the outside, I joke, laugh and have a good time.  So, it can shock leaders when my deep inner thoughts come out.  Because of ‘ugly’ times past with church or a pastor, I hesitate to reveal the deeper side of me.

One particularly painful memory of church involved a pastor who used scripture to shame people into service.  I became the person no one wanted to be.  I became the person who said ‘no.’  Jud worked his full-time job and then volunteered 20-30 hours per week at the church for this pastor.  The pastor wanted me to do more–be more like Jud.  Three children in elementary school and the demands of keeping them fed, clothed and maturing filled my plate.  At first, I deprived myself of sleep to help the church get its footing.  The pastor kept saying, “We just need to push through this immediate need.”  I asked for some time off–3 months to be exact.  He told me that I was ‘shrinking back’ and needed to stop being selfish.  After a couple of years (yes, I am that dense), I realized he would never okay time off for me–there was always one more ‘big push.’  He used scripture to shame me into service.  He compared me to Jud and said that I needed to serve so that Jud didn’t have to work so hard.  He finally told people not to be my friend or hang out with me because I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘in rebellion.’  Frankly, he may have been right.  I won’t pretend that I did everything well and didn’t make relational mistakes.  I can use my words for good or for evil.  I have no doubt that pastor felt that my words were evil toward him.  But, my voice speaks here, not his–he gets to tell his own story.

Finally, after 5 years, we left–not on good terms.  Some would say that we didn’t leave the ‘right’ way; however, we left under guidance from professionals.  Our counselor and a few close friends said we didn’t leave soon enough.

‘Ugly’ stories like that leave scars.  Jud and I got counseling, healed ourselves and our relationship.  The scars remain and surface inopportunely.  We hired a new pastor in our current church about 5 years ago.  The first sermon series he preached was on Daniel (one of our former pastor’s favorite books).  The next series, he preached The Kingdom of God (a HUGE message of our former pastor).  God and I had some angry words over that one (okay, mine were angry; His were kind, but firm).  I informed God that if the next series was Nehemiah, I would leave church–permanently.  Five years later (so it wasn’t the ‘next’ series….), guess what our pastor wants to use for a sermon series?  Yep.  Nehemiah.  I haven’t looked at that book since leaving the dysfunctional church.  I had considered ripping it out of my Bible.  God reminded me that He won’t let any part of that ‘ugly’ experience define me now.  He won’t let that pastor color how I view His words.  (By the way, at the moment I still despise Nehemiah, so I suppose God’s right to address the topic.)  Of all the sermons and shaming, Nehemiah represents how this man leveled scripture against me…often…publicly.

One lesson I’ve learned over my life:  Trust God.  Not necessarily people…but I can trust God.  When I found out about this sermon series, God spoke into my heart that I needed to ask my current pastors to pray for me as we go through the book.  Of course, my response was one of submissive repose and quick obedience.  I believe my sanitized reaction went something like, “WHAT?!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”  After a lengthy…um…’dialog’ that lasted several days, I grudgingly complied.  This part of the healing could be the final tote bag left to unpack of the steamer-trunk-sized baggage that I’ve carried from this trauma.  Of the lessons I’ve learned from the ‘ugly’ stories, this one is hard.  I know that God matures us through healing the ugliness in our lives.  I know that God ‘makes all things new’ and that ‘in Christ we are new creations’ and I am thankful for His creative work in our hearts and lives. I trust Him and the path He leads me.

So, I’m reading Nehemiah and hoping that at some point, I will only hear God’s voice speaking the words.

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A Birthday Letter

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My dearest Em–

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! 

Today is Palm Sunday–just as it was 22 years ago.  The whole ‘triumphal entry’ theme resonates with me afresh in Palm Sunday sermons.

Kusel, Germany, 1991.  Desert Storm had left the military hospitals gutted in preparation for wounded, so I, along with everyone else in our Lamaze class, prepared to deliver in a German hospital.  My OB/GYN hailed from Greece, but studied in the US.  The OB who actually delivered you came from France.  Your half-Japanese dad dutifully and sensitively held my hand.  Diversity in action, it felt apropos for our ‘melting pot’ family.  I’ve heard it said (from mostly men) that women forget the pain of childbirth when the doctor or nurse puts their beautiful baby, all snuggled and clean in a blanket, into their arms.  *sigh*  How magical childbirth is in their world….  Reality check:  Those people lie…. However, with the pain comes great joy.

I hope I never forget the beautiful European years of raising you to toddlerhood.  Going to the park down the street, strolling to the Greek restaurant past the cows, gasping with awe as the shepherd helped birth his sheep in the springtime.  The fields of saffron flowers blooming gave me such joy.  Oh, I wouldn’t call it idyllic (I’m not that naive).  I also remember dad almost dying when I was 9 months pregnant with Jason, and our little church community completely falling apart and relationships destroyed.  But I remember the pace of life.  I remember quietness and peace.  I remember church bells echoing through the villages.  I remember old people oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over you in your stroller and giving you candy while we shopped, traveled and ate in the German cities and towns.  And I remember letting you eat the candy that I would throw away if a stranger in America gave it to you.  I remember feeding the ducks in the village next to ours–and you stuffing the bread in your mouth while throwing some to the ducks.  A different culture.  A different life.

I loved the beginning of our family and the treasury of those memories.  I’ve loved raising you to adulthood, and although there have been many bumpy years as we grew and learned together, pride fills my heart as I see you pursuing your passions and learning to fly.  I still see that little girl in Germany who brought such joy and wonder to life.  I see her when your excitement and effervescence lights up the faces of the girls you mentor.  I see her when life is hard and tears fill your eyes at injustices.  I see her when you hope for a better tomorrow.  I see her when you curl up in a blanket and watch a Disney movie.  I see her when you courageously face the critics, once again, and fight for righteousness.  I see her when you see chocolate milk in the refrigerator and all is right with the world.  I see her when Jesus shines through you and gives grace to a soul who believes itself undeserving.  I see her when you worship God–with music and the sacrifice of your life.

You are my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.

Love you–‘madgey’

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