To My Girls

girlsTo My Girls, The Ones I Birthed and The Ones I Encounter,

This will not be the only letter you receive from me, but it is, perhaps, the most important one I want to share next to the one that says to love Jesus and follow Him.  You are special, important, loved.  You each entered this world into the arms of love, so much love it sometimes hurt, so much love it is impossible to show it all.  Your first wobbly steps, your words, your first days of preschool and grade school, all were recorded lovingly as moments leading to independence.  And someday, those moments of independence will lead to days, years, a lifetime of independence.  If you carry only a few messages in your backpack of memories from childhood, let this be one.

This world is a dangerous place for girls.  There are overt dangers: attacks by strangers or supposed loved ones, human trafficking, persuasive pressure toward using your body as currency or for the pleasure of others.  All of these dangers I read about every day, and I pray.  I pray for protection of your body.  I pray that you will never face these physical dangers that lead to emotional brokenness.  I wonder if I have raised you with enough courage, enough street smarts, enough confidence to fend off attacks that may assail you.  I wonder what the difference is between assurance and naivety.  I wonder if you will know the difference, if you will be brave when the moment seems impossible.  I pray that you will.

There is a bigger danger, though, than these outward physical attacks.  It is the danger that lies inside of you, inside of me, inside of most women in the world today.  It is that voice that says that you aren’t worthy, that you don’t deserve the very best.  Some days the voice will say it is because you aren’t smart enough to compete for that dream job you have spent years preparing for.  You might be tempted to answer that voice by deleting the resume you finally finished.  Sometimes (too often) the voice will whisper that your thighs that rub together when you walk are too fat.  You might respond, depending on your mood and the moment, that you will skip dinner, that you will run more and eat less.  Sometimes that same voice will repeat and repeat and repeat that you are unloved and unloveable.  In return, you will enter, or stay in, friendships and relationships that don’t validate your worth.  You will give away pieces of yourself that you can’t get back to people who won’t value each part of you as the miracle I have seen it as since birth.   And as you lose those bits and pieces in worthless endeavors and relationships, you will chip away at your own sense of worth.  That little voice will silence you.

So my message to you is this:  God has made you “fearfully and wonderfully”, and He loves you with the fierce love of a Father.  I love you, and Dad loves you, and countless people love you.  For those of you who don’t belong to me, someone loves you too, even when you cannot see it.  And when you feel like no one loves you, love yourself.  Love yourself enough to see your worth, to place high value on your body, to see beauty in yourself when the world screams at you to change, to have confidence in your mind and heart.  You have intelligence beyond your own comprehension. You have abilities and ideas that add value to this world. Do not shortchange them.

girls2

You have feelings: own them.  No one can tell you how to feel; if someone negates your feelings, he or she doesn’t value you.  Know the difference between love and control, so that you won’t be ruled by someone else.  Know God, and His boundless love, and measure the love anyone claims toward you against that measuring stick.  You will find that, although we all fall short of perfect love, that measuring stick will make you relationship decisions easier.

You have worth. Inherent in your soul from the moment of conception, you are worthy. Do not allow the billboards, the beauty magazines, the insecure boys, the power-hungry businessmen to silence the voice within you that claims your worth or to twist your words into insecurity or self-hatred.  When you claim your God-given worth, you have power to overcome a world that does not cherish you. And when the world threatens to defeat your worth, remember God’s love, and mine, and Dad’s, and create your own love army to help fight those battles.

Love,  MOM

 

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My Yes Dress

I have this one amazing dress. I wear it often; I wear it to work, out with friends, and to church. It is a beautiful color that seems to shift from one shade to another depending on the lighting and my surroundings. I often get compliments on this outfit. I even feel like people like me more when I wear it. It is my yes dress. Even the name of it sounds pleasant.

I thought for a long time that agreeability was a good, even enviable trait to possess. I am able to avoid arguments, make friends, and keep people happy just by being agreeable.  I stay out of political and religious frays, and I don’t have to worry about offending anyone.  Being agreeable has saved me some uncomfortable moments and has made my life fairly simple.

The Free Dictionary defines “agreeable” as: ‘ready to consent or submit; disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others.’  I have mixed feelings as I read that.  I think there are healthy times and situations to submit and yield to someone else’s will, but this definition sounds like it is about a weak person, someone who doesn’t know what she believes or thinks, or is too afraid to say it if she does.  I’m not so sure as I read this if this is the definition I want to stand out about me.

I remember as a teen learning Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what the Lord’s will is–His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  At that time, we spent most of our time talking about peer pressure and the importance of nonconformity.  But I didn’t have too much trouble with peer pressure.  I had good friends, I knew what I wanted and where I was headed, and I rarely felt coerced into something I thought “went against the will of God”.  In fact, I would venture to say that as I have aged, my bent toward agreeability has pushed me more toward compliance to worldly ideas.  The conversations as an adult living in this time in history are much more coercive to agreeing with the majority or at least to avoiding offense against any individual or group.

My agreeability dress seems less beautiful in light of Paul’s words.  Replacing ‘agreeability’ with ‘conformity’ feels uncomfortable, scratchy, a constant reminder that I am going against the power I have  to have an opinion rooted in Truth and to speak my mind in love. Peter says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear’ (1 Peter 1:13-17). Later, Peter again calls us ‘temporary residents’ and ‘foreigners’, warning us to keep away from worldly desires.

I’m not certain why I feel so happy to be agreeable, to conform, yet so nervous and fearful of being a foreigner.  I imagine it goes all the way back to the childhood desire to belong, to fit in, to keep people happy in order to avoid discomfort.  I’m not sure what it would look like if I traded in my yes dress for a transformational one, but I believe that, while temporarily uncomfortable, I could grow to fit the expectations and the freedom of wearing Truth boldly.

Your Graduation Gift

What I love most about seniors is this moment when their life of high school ends and their real life moments begin. It is exciting and scary, fun and frustrating, and we spend this last week together vacillating between strangling and hugging one another. But I wish all my seniors the best of the gifts this world has to offer. You all have so much to offer this world- don’t hold back!

The Gifts
Today you leave this life with many gifts,

a full mind that opens your eyes

to see the wonder of this world;

History, and Shakespeare, and Freud

to feel the power of moments and words;

Music and Art to experience the depths

of emotions you cannot speak or write.

You take moments with friends

who made you who you are

and hours with teachers

who made you more

than you thought you could be.

You take all of these, but leave behind

memories of what you have done,

what you have said,

and who you have been.

You go forth into a new life

to receive experiences

that stretch your mind and soul;

moments that deepen your senses;

hardships that feel like curses

but become gifts in their own right.

In this new world you enter

you also will give away

ideas that are fresh and new,

gifts that you create

with hands and hearts and minds.

And you will give feelings:

Let them be joy and not sadness,

love and not hate,

trust and not fear,

generosity and not selfishness.

Be the person you have always wanted to be.

Live the life you have always hoped to live.

Make your tomorrow the best gift

of today.

Privilege

 

If you are reading this today, you are privileged. You have access to information, freedom to share, and the ability to read words marching along a page in a straight line, not dancing in circles inside your head.  So many elements outside of your own control have brought you to this moment in history, most of which you likely take for granted except when they are highlighted or challenged.

I am going to tell you what showed me more clearly my own privilege than any other event in my life, a moment that ashamed me because it brought to light my own fears and prejudices and my own recognition that privilege has separated me from the world in many ways.  It began the day I met Timothy.  His progression to my front door actually was quite long.  Nick passed Timothy walking along I-94 near Galesburg.  He passed, but God told him to return.  So he did…and this is part of what happened…

A Pork Chop Sandwich

Timothy stood hunched over the messy counter, and when he turned, he was clutching two thickly breaded pork chops sandwiching a burger patty.  It was obviously a strange conglomeration from the leftover pile of mismatched Tupperware in the fridge, and it was still clearly cold.  She felt frustration; those leftovers were for an upcoming meal, he was making a crumby mess everywhere, but most of all, his eyes gave away his own unawareness of the social faux pas in which he had put himself.  That inability to use the graces she had been raised on was what kept putting her over the edge.  But what could be said?  Timothy began babbling on about his hunger, boxing her in to the tight kitchen corner with his mindless forward shuffling.

“These are good pork chops,” he addressed her between slack-mouthed chewing.  “I haven’t had pork chops in a long time.”

She didn’t know how to respond.  The moment felt uncomfortable, not apparently for him, but painfully so for her.  The internal fight was escalating between showing grace, and love, and mercy, all the things she had been taught by parents and pastors, and demanding some form of social order in her own home.  And as Timothy inched ever closer, her own issues with personal space pushed her more toward frustration, discomfort, and desperate awareness of her inability to control the situation or her emotions.

Timothy was a bit like a stray dog whose owners hadn’t stepped forward.  He needed to be fed and cared for or he could find himself in danger, his own mental incapacities a constant enemy for him.  And yet, like the puppy you didn’t pick out from the breeder yourself, there was a grudgingness to her care that was palpable.  She hadn’t even brought him home.  Her husband, unable to ignore the nagging voice in his head, had looped around on I-94 to pick him up, then spent half of his work day trying to get him into the local shelter.  He was the hero; she did not have his compassion or his way with people.  She liked order and clarity, which was difficult to find when dealing with poverty, mental illness, and state organizations.  Although she wanted to help, she wasn’t very adept at jumping into the middle of the messiness.  

Timothy interrupted her thought process.  “Can I have a Coke?”  he asked, his dark brown eyes expectant and his stare dogged.  

“Of course,” she replied. “They are in the bottom of the fridge.”

Timothy had jumped from the shelter, to the mental health ward of a local hospital, and eventually, back on to the street, where Nick again picked him up and brought him home.  The brokenness of the system and the many difficulties that a middle-aged man with disabilities like Timothy presented made the process difficult, and Nick couldn’t ignore Timothy’s phone calls, imagining him downtown at a pay phone, gripping tightly to the grubby business card Nick had left with him.  Nick was Timothy’s only connection in the city; it was as if Timothy had materialized on the highway that day out of thin air, coming to disrupt this unsuspecting family in a suburban neighborhood.  

She wanted to believe that her many missions trips, her raising money for the poor, her contact with difficult student cases in the public schools, and her general kindness and love would make it easy to show God’s love to those who needed it the very most.  But she had been wrong.  She had never felt less capable than in this moment, standing in the kitchen alone with this man, this stranger.  Anger and frustration were the closest emotions she could grasp then, and she held on tightly, avoiding eye contact, silently cursing her husband, the system, and all of her own inadequacies.  

“Let’s go sit on the porch,” she suggested feebly, attempting to extricate herself from the claustrophobia-inducing kitchen corner.

“I need to go to the library,” he gave as his answer, repeating for emphasis, “I need to go to the library.”  

Here was her out; she responded over-eagerly, “Great idea! I can’t leave right now, but it is a short walk.  Do you remember how to get there?”  Short was a relative term here.  In the week or two that she had known Timothy, he had walked miles every day, sometimes downtown to meet with a caseworker, sometimes across town because he saw something interesting in the paper and wanted to check it out.  The library was actually a few miles away, but a straight enough shot that he would be unlikely to get lost, and a safe enough walk that she wouldn’t wonder about him returning.

After a quick recitation and repetition of the directions, told with the same care that you tell a 5-year-old to accomplish a task, Timothy set off.  His loping gait that made the neighbors uncomfortable was visible all the way down the neighborhood street.  In the freedom of the moment, watching him walk away without feeling his piercing eyes, wondering what he was thinking, she could feel it.  The discomfort of the situation gave way to genuine concern and care, but a concern and care that felt the inevitability of defeat.  Timothy was not a child; he could not be adopted; he could not stay indefinitely in the tent out back.  There had already been fierce arguments with family and neighbors (and herself) over the safety and propriety of a middle-aged, mentally unstable stranger in such close proximity to the children they were entrusted to care for first.  It felt hopeless; the redemption of the situation seemed beyond human involvement.  

And in that moment, as Timothy walked into the distance, she felt it.  The privilege that she was born into that could not be passed through that invisible barrier to this other human, equally as deserving, perhaps more desperate in his need for it.  And then the frustration turned inward.  She couldn’t pass on privilege, but she could refuse to allow privilege to make her a hoarder of security and grace. She could fight for Timothy and help his cause. She could share a pork chop sandwich.

The Worry Stone

I am a worrier.  I’m fairly confident there is a worry gene, and it somehow made its way into my DNA before birth.  I have become fairly adept at keeping my worry beneath the surface, a turbulent undertow masked by calm waters.  Sometimes I don’t even realize the Worry is down there.  But then it is revealed in moments of fear, or in doctor’s diagnoses of ailments like silent reflux.  I try to handle my worry with aids like exercise, breathing deeply, and focusing on the positive.  But sometimes, these things don’t help.  Do you remember those worry stones?  The small, smooth tokens to carry around in your pocket.  Psychologists insist that rubbing them between your thumb and finger will soothe your nerves and calm your senses.  If that is true, I need a worry boulder in my front yard.  

The internet has not improved my propensity to worry. Now I have to see every new danger to my children, every random killing, every food not to eat, every place not to go, every political candidate that is going to bring down our great nation.  On top of those news and advertising scares are the many worries I steal from others.  Anything I haven’t thought to worry about yet, someone has already posted, blogged, or memed.  The internet is the meeting place for worriers.  

In my calendar, this has been the Year (give or take a few months) of Worry.  Worry about selling a house, worry about finding a house, worry about a kid in the hospital, a scary accident at home, a rough start to another year in public education, straight into the worry about our presidential future.  My worry stone is rubbed into non-existence.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.  It is a telling moment where you make a mental list like the one above and realize how much time you have spent on Worry.  

Out of this excess of worry come other ugly responses: anger, fear, judgment, sadness.  We can see these in the news, hear them in the tremble of voices, find them creeping into our hearts and minds as we watch, read, listen, and fill our minds and hearts with so many things to worry about.  We let worry crowd out common sense, peace, and even intelligent thought.  But most of all, we allow worry to separate us from what we know to be Truth.  When I think about it, most of my favorite verses in the Bible are about worry…I don’t think that is coincidental.  Here are a few:

Matthew 6:27- “Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

Philippians 4:6-7- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 55:22- “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”
I am going to cling to the Truth and avoid the lies I allow the world to use to lure me into worry.  I am going to advocate for right when I see wrong, trusting that my small contribution will make a difference. I am going to educate myself, but not allow that education to scare me or, conversely, fill me with the pride that I can do this on my own. Most of all, I am going to fall back on the promises of God and pray for peace amidst the strife of this world.  I am in the worry of this world, but I won’t allow myself to be a victim of it.  

Motherhood…

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m posting a poem I wrote when Maeve was just a tiny baby…eight years ago!  All the feelings from then are the same, to an even deeper degree, after eight years, three babies, the tumultuous toddler years, school days, and many many moments of being a Mom.

Paper thin eyelids flicker with dreams;

Sighs of futures yet unmet

Move in and out against my chest.

And I, too awed to move,

feel more strongly

the protective muscles of my arms,

the fearful beating of my heart,

the comforting and terrifying weight

of Motherhood.
Her fingers grasp and ungrasp,

searching for me.

Her piercing stare the doctors say

can only see mere inches

is unmoving against my eyes.

I am whole, and broken,

unimaginably joyous, and afraid;

I feel strong, but never weaker,

immeasurably full, yet palpably empty,

completely able, still incapable,

the enduring paradox

of Motherhood.
The days pass slowly,

filled with repeated moments,

painful and comfortable patterns

that melt into months of

Growth and Change

Written on doctor charts,

Piled in outgrown sleepers,

Punctuated in smiles and laughter,

Underlined in fear and worry,

The writing that feels unforgettable,

But can hardly be remembered

in the blur

of Motherhood.

 

All the things that used to make sense,

that used to have meaning,

that filled up the moments

of an already full life,

fade in old photographs,

whisper in memories,

shadowed behind the weight,

the hope and fear,

the wonder and pain,

the eclipsing love

of Motherhood.

My Mascara Admission (Deep Cleaning Part 2)

See my blogging issue? I start a multi-part post, then only complete part 2 because I have a puker that got me out of going to my day job today!  On to my #2 point: We believe that we will be more attractive to the world if we show only those parts of us that we have prepared for company.

I left off my cleaning analogy with this point that I truly believe is an issue that is a common hurdle for women in our relationships with others. We are concerned with presentation, with looking good, with others’ opinions.  Maybe not all of us, and not all the time.  For example, I don’t care about cars. I never have, and I probably never will.  I hate spending money on cars because they serve a mere utilitarian purpose for me, and I do not care what people think about what I drive to work every day.  Besides, my kids tend to turn my car into a mobile closet/trash can every week anyway. That being said, I do care about other aspects of my presentation.  I am embarrassed to leave the house without eye makeup, because I have these dark circles that I was born with that grow with every sleepless night of motherhood.  I keep cover-up and mascara in my car…yup, I care about my eyes. If I forget it, I have to roll through a Rite Aid and remedy the situation.  I don’t think it hurts anyone that I wear mascara every day, but I do think it is harmful to do all of this in an effort to project an image of perfection that separates me from living an authentic life.

I see this issue very clearly when I look at myself and my husband, or my friends and their husbands.  If other husbands are like mine, they are NOT concerned with what is on the floor of the living room or what the kiddos wear to church. They do not see those items as reflections of their inmost being or testaments to their personal hygiene or issues that a neighbor might judge.  I, on the other hand, view every aspect of my life through a lens of what I think other people want to see in me.  I concern myself with all the what if someone sees/thinks/decides __________ about me.  I try to project an image that is comfortable for all and hide the realities that don’t reflect what I want, so I create a version of myself based on others’ opinions rather than the most important Opinion.

This is a dangerously precarious house of cards to balance, and it is one that creates barriers rather bridges and fosters jealousy/sadness/incompleteness rather than wholeness.  I’m not saying that we cannot “prepare for company” as in my cleaning metaphor.  I like to entertain; I like to use my china, and buy flowers, and execute my best recipes for others.  But, if I do this in my life to the extent that I hide my daily reality, I am doing a disservice to my company and to myself.  Some days the best I can do is paper plates and a CrockPot meal.  If I can admit this, and those around me can admit this, then we can encourage each other on those mismatched-sock/cereal-for-dinner/family-feud-on-the-way-to-church days that we too often try to hide.

So, can I get really real about this problem for a minute?  There was a time I cared so much about my image that I missed opportunities to deal with a really-real issue in my life. Nick was struggling with his alcoholism, and I was struggling with his alcoholism too.  I was alone, and it was a self-imposed prison. I don’t think that I would have recognized then that it was my fear of my own image that kept me from seeking help, but I certainly recognize it now.  I look back and wonder if I would have had support if I had been honest about the struggle; if I could have better helped Nick find a way out sooner if I had been willing to lay it all out there; if I might have used my struggles eventually to help others. I don’t dwell in that place of the past, and Nick and I are celebrating six sober years this summer that have been full of all kinds of healing, but the biggest healing did not come until I could be open.  Going back to the thing about husbands, the day Nick admitted his alcoholism was the day he chose to live in complete truth, but it took me at least another year to begin to open up about our issues, and most importantly, my issues, because I couldn’t let go of my pretenses.

I have decided that living in a way that allows the truth to show always will do three things:

 

  • Admitting imperfection allows us to let go of fear.  The thing about maintaining images is that it is sometimes a fruit of pride, but more often it is actually a fruit of fear.  We are afraid to put reality out there because we don’t know how others might take it, or whether we will have people who will be able to, or even want to, help carry our burdens.  The truth is, when we can bravely face whatever demons we are trying to hide, we can be released from the fear of judgment and loneliness.

 

  • Admitting imperfection allows us to foster trust in authentic relationships. When we let go of the fear and come clean in our relationships, we can foster real trust.  I have made some of my most honest and true relationships when I have cast aside fear and worry and allowed myself to be fully honest and own my experiences.  In fact, when I have done that, I find that those around me shed their pretenses as well.  It is then we can find authenticity that leads to true caring and healing.

 

  • Admitting imperfection allows God’s perfection to shine through us. I have been in those moments where I sit in the back of church and see the perceived perfect images of women all around me and feel inadequate. And I have also been the woman who perpetuates that inadequacy by pretending I have it all together. Neither position is a good one. God wants us to be as “jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing gift is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  God doesn’t need me to be perfect; He is perfect. He can complete His work in and through me if I am willing to put aside appearances and focus on His glorifying work in me.

    It feels freeing just to get this on paper (well, screen). Let us focus on God’s grace for us and pass that same grace on to one another.