Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Oh,Susanna.....Won't You Cry for Us?

  

     This past summer my husband and I visited London to celebrate his 40th birthday.  We haven't done much world travel, so this was a big trip for us.  While we were there we visited the National Gallery.  It was unlike anything I have ever seen.  Thousands of paintings by the most world renowned artists adorned its walls.  There was a sense of experiencing something much larger than oneself, generations of art and emotion everywhere.  Many of the paintings were religious in nature.  There were so many beautiful paintings of Christ and a plethora of other Biblical characters.  But as we looked around, a painting caught my eye that confused me.  It was a painting of the Biblical account of Susanna and the Elders.  Brian and I looked at each other and asked "Who is Susanna?".  I couldn't remember ever learning about her in a Bible class or reading that name in my Bible.  So I looked up the story on my phone out of curiosity and found out that it was a part of the Apocrypha - writings that are included in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles that were omitted from the Protestant Bible because they are not in the Hebrew Bible.  This past week I got to study the apocrypha again in my class and the story of Susanna hit me even harder in light of what is going on right now in our culture.  Allow me to explain.
      Susanna was a godly, married woman.  She was bathing in her garden when two elders saw her and were attracted to her.  They approached her as she tried to return to her home and told her that unless she agreed to have sex with them they would accuse her of committing adultery with a young man.  Susanna refused to comply, and they had her arrested and convicted to death.  But a man named Daniel (this story is in the Greek book of Daniel) interrupts the proceedings and insists that they should question the elders to prevent the death of an innocent woman.  The two elders are cross-examined to get their account of finding Susanna committing adultery with the young man.  Their details do not match when they name two very different types of trees as the meeting place.  Their lies are revealed, and instead of Susanna dying, the two elders are put to death.
      Now, I have no idea if this story actually happened, but clearly this was a concern in society even in the times when the Biblical canon was being formed.  Imagine Susanna, a woman in a man's society.  She is threatened by "elders" who I would assume would be a very intimidating force.  And she refuses to let them use her.  She doesn't give in to the system that tells her that she is merely a woman and has to take whatever a man may throw at her.  She stands up for herself even if it means death.  And who comes to her defense, but a man?  A good man came to her defense.  And a good man stopped the bad men from succeeding in their evil. 
     Almost every day right now in the news we are hearing of another big name who is accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.  Men are losing their jobs and their good names.  Women who have been silent for years, carrying their scars in every moment of their lives, are speaking out and saying "me too".  There is a movement of women (and men) who have been abused banding together and saying "THIS STOPS NOW".  And it is a beautiful and utterly devastating moment in our history.  Beautiful because the darkness is being brought to light and the perpetrators can no longer hide.  Devastating because the broad spectrum of sexual sickness in our culture is being laid out on a table in plain sight for all of us to see.  I am in a couple of Facebook groups who have had discussions about this topic and the testimonies from women and men there are devastating.  But the most devastating are the stories in my children's ministry group of children who are dealing with this right now.  And I have to be honest, you guys, I am mad.  I am mad that we live in a world where women and children are regularly victimized by sex-crazed men.  I am mad that we have a porn industry that brings in BILLIONS of dollars every year, and no one is calling out the fact that this is destroying our men (and some women) and ultimately leading to the kinds of crimes that are being committed by hijacking normal and healthy attitudes toward sex.  I am mad that sex has been turned into something that God never intended for it to be, and yet we wonder what has gone wrong.  The stories, the tears, the lives in pieces, the scars, the faces, they are almost too much to bear.  And that anger turns to grief.  And out of the grief something must happen. 
     Susanna may not have made it into my Bible, but I think she has something valuable to teach us right now.  First of all, she shows us the courage and strength of the woman who stands up and tells her story instead of hiding behind her fear of the more powerful aggressor.  When these women (and men) speak out, WE HAVE TO HONOR THEIR PAIN.  We have to listen and HEAR them.  Secondly, WE HAVE TO BE DANIEL.  Someone had to stand up for Susanna here.  She had no status to defend herself.  Had Daniel not stepped in, she would have died an innocent woman, and the evil men who accused her would have walked free.  There are people who need a Daniel.  They are afraid to speak up without it.  And, ladies, certainly we can stand up together and support each other.  Our voices matter, and they need to be heard.  But, men, we desperately need you here.  We have to have good men stepping up the plate and speaking out against sexual abuse.  We have to have men who are willing to take a stand against pornography and men's clubs.  We have to have men who will insist that women are equal to men and in no way lesser.  We have to have men who will stand up next to these women and say "NOT ME".  "I will never treat a woman like she is an object for my pleasure."  "I will never harm a child for my own gain."  "I will never condone this behavior by any of my fellow men."  "I won't feed into a pornography culture that is creating a bleak future for our boys and our girls."  Men, please start a "NOT ME" movement to remind us all that there are really good men in this world and to remind the men who have fallen that there is a better way to live.  The abusers of this world are broken.  They need you too.  They need to you model a sexually pure life.  They need the love of Jesus that can transform them.  And, Church, we have so much work to do in healing what has happened and continues to happen in our culture.  We have to realize that our buildings are full of people who have experienced this sickness from both sides, and we have to talk about the things that are hard to talk about.  And we have to STAND UP FOR THE OPPRESSED.  It is our mission.  It is our calling.  We can't be silent about this issue.  Be the Daniel for all the Susannas.  Be the Daniel.  BE THE DANIEL.  Otherwise the innocent will continue to fall. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

This Little Light of Mine

 

    Has anyone else been struggling to deal with the world around us?  It seems like every day there is another news story.  Sacred spaces are under vicious attack.  Our churches and schools are being pillaged by men with absurd weapons.  Sexual abuse runs rampant.  Pornography is stealing our boys and tainting our society.  Sex trafficking is occurring in our communities, and we are afraid to let our daughters out of our sight.  Every time I see a news story, another victim - another aggressor in desperate need of help.  And every time another woman (or man) says "Me Too" it feels like a punch in the gut.  Our celebrities are criminals, drunk on power and lacking in decency.  And their victims could fill stadiums.  The distortion of God's plan is glaring and obvious, and the world keeps spinning out of control.  And it sure seems like the people with the power to make changes have no intent to do so.  So what are we to do?  Where do we go from here?
     This morning I got to spend some time with 4-7 year olds.  I was teaching children's church, and we were singing songs from the "praise box".  This little box has manipulatives that go with each set of songs.  Well, it was time to get out the little flashlights.  The kids love them.  So we turned them on and started singing "This Little Light of Mine".  We were barely into the song when one little one asked if we could turn out the lights.  "Sure!", I said, so they turned them out.  It was immediately shocking to me how even in the light of day, turning out the lights made the little flashlights shine so much more brightly.  They were beautiful in the semi-darkness, bringing joy to the children and praise to the Lord.  And in that moment I knew the answer to the angst and pain that surrounds me.  In the darkness the light shines even brighter.  You see, darkness cannot block out light.  You cannot carry darkness into a fully lit space and drown out the light.  However, you can take even a small light into a darkened space and break through the darkness.  The reverse will never be true.  One is more powerful than the other.  They are not equal forces.  And light overpowers darkness every time.  The only way darkness can win the day is if the source of the light stops working or the light separates itself from the source.  We have a choice to make every day in the darkness.  We can let the darkness so overwhelm us that we turn off our light and give up.  Or we can let the darkness so motivate us that our light shines ever brighter, bringing stark and sudden contrast to the darkness.  And when light is held up to the darkness, what lurks in the darkness is exposed.  Exposure takes away power.  Sin and evil thrive in the darkness.  But in the exposure of light, they cannot stand.  We have the power of an endless source of light.  His name is Jesus. We just have to tap into him.  Darkness gives us an opportunity to shine more brightly than ever before.  But we cannot be afraid.  If we live in fear, we are just rolling in the dark.  So we shine the light, we expose the darkness, and we use all our energy to turn the darkness into light in our homes, our communities, our nation, our world.  We have the power.  We just have to use it.  I can't light up the entire world, but I can light up my little corner of it.  And you can light up yours.  And maybe if we just keep shining we can all turn the world upside down.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Take a Time-In

     The past couple of days I've been at a children's ministry conference.  It has been really busy and tiring but such a blessing.  My brain is chalked full of all kinds of great ideas and information.  I'm in that place of being completely inspired and slightly overwhelmed.  I have gotten lots of new resources and books.  Side note, I have a book problem.  Look, I'm just gonna admit it.  It's a sickness.  I love them.  I probably have 20 or so in my "want to read" stack already but I keep adding them.  If we won the lottery, I would just buy all the books.  Belle is my favorite Disney Princess for a reason.  If the Beast had given me that library, he would have instantly looked like Ryan Gosling or James Marsden in my eyes.  "What fur?  I love you, forever."  When the kids bring home scholastic brochures it takes all of my self control to not buy 20 of them.  Maybe I should start singing the "Fruits of the Spirit" song when I see that lovely flyer full of monthly specials.  If you know of a 12 step program for hopeless nerds who are unrealistic about the actual amount of time in a day, sign me up.   Anyway, back to the conference.  I have heard a lot of things in the past couple of days that have impacted me.  But this evening in my last class of the day the speaker said something that stopped me in my tracks.  She was talking about kids that are particularly difficult.  In her context she was referencing foster child situations she works with.  And then she said it.  She just breezed on by it like it wasn't profound or life changing.  She said "Instead of a time-out, we take a time-in."  And I caught my breath in my chest.

     Take a time-in.  I've been learning a lot lately about parenting to the heart of the child.  The thing about behavior modification is that it's just that - BEHAVIOR modification.  Now, when a child has a bad behavior, we want to modify it.  That is just the sane thing to want to do.  And it is a good thing to want to do.  As one of the speakers yesterday pointed out, psychologists like Pavlov gave us the useful methods that we call behaviorism.  We can train a dog with the sound of a bell.  We can make them salivate or do whatever if we condition them.  This is great information.  We have taken this information and applied to children - in the home, in the classroom, in the church, wherever.  The only problem is - kids aren't dogs.  So, we can train our kids to do the right things.  In fact, many would say that it is what parenting is all about.  There are a lot of people of people who will judge your parenting solely on whether or not and how quickly your kids fall into line when you blow the whistle.  The parent should be "in control".  The parent should be teaching the child how to behave.  And certainly there is some truth to be found here.  It IS our job to teach our children how to behave.  But MODELING is the ideal means to this end. 
     Molding our children into well behaved citizens is a great thing, but there is a major problem if you stop there.  If we simply treat the symptoms of our children's behavior and ignore the heart condition that precipitates the behavior we are raising robots.  They may behave as we say, but their hearts will at best be unchanged and at worst become hard and rusty.  Having to constantly vie for approval from your parents leaves a deep whole in the heart of a child.  If your parents are only interested in your good behavior, the message you will get is that it's all that matters.  And then you end up with this:  An adult person who does the "right things" in a legalistic sense, but has a corroded heart.  They might follow all the rules, but they might treat their waitress like crap.  They might make good money because they learned good behavior strategies, but they might be lonely and not like themselves.  Good behavior alone does not a joyful life make.  Separate from emotional health, it is void of meaning.  Jesus was consistently pointing this out.  In Matthew 23 he is talking to the Pharisees.  If you read the gospels you quickly find that the Pharisees, AKA the best behaved of all the people, were the ones that Jesus rebuked again and again.  In 23:25 he says this: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the bowl and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean.  What if we applied this teaching of Jesus to our parenting?  What if we cared more about the condition of the inside of our kids than we did about what someone else thinks about the appearance of the outside.  What if we spent our time connecting with their hearts and pouring love into the cracks in their souls.  What if instead of a time-out when they are in the wrong, we took a time-in and spent enough time with them to see what is actually going on in their hearts?  What if we then took the time to train and disciple their hearts in a way that would kill the root of the problem?  And what if during this whole process instead of casting them from our presence we stayed calm and connected with them?  I wonder what our families would look like. 
     A couple of weeks ago I did an "exegetical" assignment for my current graduate class on the book of 1 Kings 18 - Elijah and the Prophets of Baal.  This was the first assignment of this type I had done.  We are learning how to interpret scripture.  There was an entire long process we had to follow and a lot of questions to answer to the tune of 15 pages by the time it was finished.  I had one week to do this assignment.  For the first 10 pages I loved the assignment.  "This is so exciting.  I love diving so deeply into scripture.  This is fascinating.  I love graduate school so much.  Everyone is beautiful.  I hope we do this every week."  By the time I got to the last 5 pages I had decided that everything was stupid.  "This assignment is stupid.  Graduate school is stupid.  The prophets of Baal are stupid.  King Ahab is stupid.  I am too stupid for this class.  I was stupid to sign up.  It's just all stupid."  I found out that doing "exegesis" on a portion of scripture is basically looking at it so closely that if it were a person you were studying you would know how many nose hairs they have by the end of the process.  Help me Jesus, with the exegesis!  All in all it was a great learning experience though. 
     How does this relate to this post?  It does.  I promise.  As I was going through this process I had to answer the question about why I thought the prophets of Baal started to cut themselves and maim their bodies in an attempt to get their "god" to do what they had been asking all day long and send down fire upon the altar.  For me the obvious answer was that they truly believed that this "Baal" was a god who cared for them.  He wasn't doing what they wanted, so they thought maybe hurting themselves would get his attention.  If he cared for them he would act in order to keep them from hurting themselves.  And immediately it hit me.  This is what our children do.  They can't get our attention, so they will do all kinds of negative things to see if we will respond.  "Mom says she loves me, but I can't get her attention.  Maybe if I do something that worries her she will prove that she cares about me."  Our kids are fighting for our attention with so many things.  We are a busy society with so many commitments.  We work, we volunteer, we have hobbies, we have our television shows we just" have to watch".   And then there are the phones.  Y'all, I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here because it has been said many times, but our phones are stealing away gobs of attention from our children.  And let me be the first to raise my hand and say "guilty".  When people can reach you at anytime and anywhere, when you can check email messages from work from anywhere, when you can see what your friends from all periods of your life are up to on one site from anywhere, you start to do these things from EVERYWHERE.  And suddenly, there are no sacred places.  Their are no places where we are fully present.  Our kids are talking to us and we are responding to texts.  Our kids want to show us what they just made and we are sending that email.  They are begging us for connection and we are too connected to our phones to look into their eyes.  So maybe sometimes it isn't our kids that need a time-out.  Maybe sometimes our devices need a time out.  Maybe sometimes we need to put all the things that are on our to do list in a time-out.  Maybe our "Netflix binge" needs a timeout.  Maybe we need to put our need to be constantly productive in a time-out.  Maybe we need to put the opinions or expectations of others in a time-out.  And maybe we need to give our kids a TIME-IN.  Maybe we need to press into them and truly know them.  Maybe when their faults and weaknesses start shining through we should give them appropriate discipline, but make sure it includes generosity of spirit and a loving tone.  And then we should spend the time and do the heart work that is needed.  It is harder this way.  I requires more time this way.  It requires intentionality.  And sometimes people will even judge you, it's true.  But what you just might end up with down the road is a grown child that you launch into adult life as a wholehearted person.  You might have an imperfect person with a beautiful heart.  And I would much rather launch a beautiful heart into this world than a toy soldier.  Wouldn't you?  Every time I get intentional about spending quality time with my children their behavior improves.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  Connection, love, empathy, guidance, approval, modeling - they will cost us more than yelling "Go to your room!".  But the interest returned in our wholehearted adult children will be well worth the investment. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

An Experiment in Being Different

     Once upon a time there was a 36 year old mother of four.  She went on a weekend girl's trip with her family to celebrate her sister's 40th birthday and made an interesting decision.  She dyed her hair purple.  And so began an accidental social experiment. 
     So, a few weeks ago I did something "crazy".  I cut my hair off and had purple streaks put in it.  I was out of town, away from all the responsibilities of life.  I had been thinking of getting my hair cut short for a while because I have had unexplainable shedding over the past few months.  If you've had a baby you can relate to the concept of postpartum hair loss that occurs when your baby is about 3 months old.  That has been happening to me - only NO BABY.  Maybe getting a puppy has the same effect.  Certainly SHE sheds everywhere.  Maybe it is stress.  But that can't be.  My life is so tame, and I have so few responsibilities (sense sarcasm).  Anyway, since my hair has betrayed me, I wanted to show it who is boss.  So I had planned in my mind that I might get a hair cut on this trip if we happened to be somewhere where there was a salon.  But while we were there I decided that I also wanted purple.  This is where I would normally talk myself out of it very quickly.  I am not an impulsive person.  And that is an understatement.  When making a decision as simple as what to order at a restaurant I usually have to go through a process equally as complicated as rocket science in my mind before I can made a choice.  If I eat that I will have less calories, but if I eat that I will be happy, but if I eat that I will get 20 grams of protein, but if I eat that I will get veggies, but if I eat that I will be hungry in two hours, but if I eat that I will hate myself in two hours.  You get the idea.  Only this is my constant reel about EVERY. SINGLE. DECISION.  I wonder why my hair is falling out?  So, when I decided to make my hair purple I knew I had two options  - 1.  Do it today right now.  2.  Overanalyze it and never do it.  And then we walked past a hair salon in the mall.  And the rest is history.
     Fun side note, when I was 18 I got my belly button pierced.  When I was 36 I dyed my hair purple.  These are the craziest things I've ever done. (Yes I know that's sad.)  So I'm thinking since I buck the system every 18 years I'll just plan for my tattoo at 54.  I'm taking suggestions for designs.  Something that says - I'm still cool, but I'm not trying too hard.  When I was 16 I so kindly (in the way only a 16 year old can) showed up at my parents' gym while they were working out and told them I wanted to go get my belly button pierced today and needed their permission.  In my 16 year old mind this was not a big deal.  I mean my ears were pierced.  What's the difference?  Well, my blind-sided parents didn't feel the same way.  They looked at me like I said "Hey guys.  I'm dropping out of high school.  I'm marrying a hit man in the mafia and moving to New Jersey.  Can you give me $1000 bucks to get started."  Now, the reason they were so shocked was likely because this was uncharacteristic of me, i.e. purple hair.  I was their straight laced, straight A's, church youth group kid.  And suddenly I wanted to pierce my navel.  So the answer was a solid NO.  But as teenagers do, as soon as I turned 18 and was graduating high school I high tailed it to the piercing joint on Charlotte Pike (thank God I'm still alive).  My accessory lasted about one year before it got on my everlasting nerve and I chunked it.  As usual, my parents were right. 
     But back to the purple hair.  I have been trying over the past year or so to have less emphasis on what people think about me and more emphasis on being true to who God created me to be.  I have lived a life of trying so hard to please everyone.  I would make decisions based on what was the least likely to upset anyone, and then after I implemented the decision I would worry myself sick over if I made the wrong one and actually did upset someone.  I would say words in the best way I knew how and then worry the rest of the day that maybe I said that wrong and offended someone.  I have walked this eggshell game for so very long.  There is a level of this game that is important.  I mean, we can't all just say everything we think and do everything we want.  If we did it would be utter chaos, i.e. American right now.  But there has to be a balance in our thinking.  We can be true to ourselves and still be kind to our neighbors.  So when I dyed my hair purple it was really just an outward expression of me saying "It's okay for me to be me.  I don't have to be everyone else's favorite version of me."  And now to the social experiment.
     Watching people's reactions to my new hair has been extremely eye opening for me.  First let's talk about the people who know me and love me: Almost across the board they have had positive reactions.  No doubt some people think it is weird, but unless I am mistaken no one who has a close relationship with me has changed the way they feel about me because my hair looks different.  I have felt love and approval, even if the occasional joke slips in.  No one who REALLY knows me cares that I have purple hair.  They see the actual me beneath the exterior. 
     Now let' discuss people who don't know me.  I have gotten more attention in the form of stares than I am comfortable with.  The day after I did it I was walking through the airport and wanted an invisibility cloak.  People just look at you like they are trying to figure out your threat level or why anyone would do such a thing.  A few strangers (all women) stopped me and told me they loved my hair.  One of them was an alternative looking African American young woman, and I thought it was so cool that my hair allowed me to strike up a conversation with her.  Across the board having purple hair gave me instant credibility with some people and instant disgrace with others.  I am very intuitive.  I usually read people pretty accurately.  And if my reading is correct, there are a lot of people who instantly liked me and an even larger amount who instantly didn't when they saw my hair.  Often times this falls into the younger people/older people category but not always.  But I have found myself at times wanting to look at a person and say, "It's okay.  I'm a mom of four and a children's minister in Seminary.  I'm really not a threat to you or your way of life."  Our oldest son started a new Christian school this year, and my haircapades happened the week before he started. (He really appreciated that.  Not.  Not at all.)  It's against the school rules for students to have crazy hair colors, so walking into all the first week meetings was fun.  Most people were very friendly, but I got some strange looks and even overheard one couple talking about me at orientation.  I have super sonic hearing - so be careful people.  And I just kept thinking "These people don't know me.  When they do they will like me." (Hopefully!) 
     Today I am getting my hair dyed a normal color.  I would like to keep the purple longer, but once again my hair has turned on me.  The purple is fading so quickly that now many of my streaks are just white bleached hair - which is not what I was going for.  I have to wash my hair every day or I look like a person who has rubbed fried chicken and Vaseline all over her head.  Sometimes I wash it twice a day if I exercise at night.  Positives: My hair is super clean.  Negatives:  My hair won't stay purple.   So today (if the hairdresser can fix my current mess) I become a normal, blending member of society again.   And on that note, here are my ultimate conclusions to my accidental, unorganized social experiment:

1.  We make constant judgements about people we don't know.  It is instant.  Our eyes see a person, and we immediately compare them with our own experiences/beliefs and make a pre-decision about them.  And the more different they are from us, the more threatening they appear.  Our brain says "If they are different from me they must think there is something wrong with how I am".  This is unspoken.  We don't even know we are doing it.  It is like a reflex.  This is true of all of us.  This is true of me.  This is what is currently wrong with our society.  This is something we need to be fighting against EVERY.  SINGLE.  DAY.  We can only do that if we admit it and are aware of it. 

2.  Relationship changes perception - EVERY TIME.  When you take time to get to know someone you are able to appreciate them for who they are.  When you are in relationship with someone you know their heart.  When you know their heart, their hair is inconsequential.  This is also what is currently wrong with our society.  We have shallow unmeaningful acquaintances, and we interact with them as if we know them because of all the social media in our world.  But we don't know them.  And we place judgements on them based on a sentence or a post without ever sitting down to have coffee with them.  This is not okay.  We cannot have a deep relationship with everyone.  Ain't nobody got tome for that.  So let's curtail our judgements for those whose hearts we don't  know.  I think the rule should go something like this: If I don't know your middle name - I'm not allowed to assume anything about you."  Fair enough?  I think so. 

3.  Being different is really hard.  Being genuine is really hard.  I have grown mad respect for people who do what they want with their appearance (or life) and don't care what anyone else thinks.  Opening yourself up to that kind of instant judgement without being known in order to be true to who God made you to be is incredibly brave.  Maybe I don't like the half-shaved head look.  Maybe I don't like tattoo sleeves.  But guess what - if you do and it makes you happy it's none of my business.  My job isn't to police the world and determine if everyone is walking in a straight line.  My job is to love the world like crazy in the name of Jesus.  My job is to look PAST whatever is in front of my eyes and see with my heart - my heart that has been taken over by the love of God.  Being different isn't wrong.  The ones who aren't afraid to be different are some of the bravest, kindest, most genuine people around us.  Respect the differences.  Don't be intimidated by them.  Love the soul, not the appearance.  The Bible says man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  Want to be more like God - look at the heart.  Nuff said. 

So goodbye purple hair!  Now I won't have to try to match you with my outfits.  Now I won't feel like I have to explain my life choices to strangers.  But I'm not gonna lie.  I'll kind of miss the edge.  :)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Threw Away My Scale

     I haven't blogged in a while.  And here's the reason - I'm writing a book.  I don't know if anyone will ever read it, but the writing of it is cleansing my soul.  I'm working on a chapter about beauty and self-image.  It has been a challenge to write about something I still wrestle with so frequently, and at the same time it's easy to write about because I have so much experience.  I've been exercising a lot lately and eating pretty great, but I haven't really lost any weight to speak of.  The frustration of that was getting to me, and today I made an important decision.  I threw away my scale.  I'll no longer let it be the measure of the woman I am.  I will strive for health and joy, not a number I had before I became a mother.  Now, because I am wordy and dramatic, I wrote my scale a poem before I sent it up the river, and I wanted to share that with you all because I love you and know many of you have the same struggles.  Consider it a little teaser for the book.  It will be in this chapter I am currently writing.  I hope it helps someone today. 

You've owned me now for twenty-six
We've ridden waves, tried each quick fix
By numbers you have measured me
But now it's time to leave me be

You've taunted me at every age
With your report - my beauty gauge
Striving toward each goal I made
My happiness - the price I paid

I grew new life and gave it birth
While you laid there and mocked my worth
I asked you morning, noon and night
How I must look in others' sight

A burdened soul, a tired mind
I'm ready now to leave behind
Worth not in numbers, but in love
My joy complete in God above

So goodbye, Friend - no, Enemy
You never saw the best of me
You can't reflect my love so deep
My sacrifice, the tears I weep

You'll never see my family tree
My Savior broken just for me
You'll never see my bravest fights
Or hold my hand through life's dark nights

You'll never see my heart so full
With husband, children, work and school
You'll miss each laughter and embrace
These lines I've earned upon my face

You measure weight but not true wealth
Your numbers can't define my health
So take your screen with all its scorn
And do not dampen one more morn

You had your chance to make me right
But all you did was blur my sight
Your song of never good enough
Cannot drown out His song of love

You won't define this life I lead
No more self-loathing will you breed
I'll find my worth in smiles I bring
And in each song of love I sing

I'll find my worth in days well spent
In knowing each is heaven sent
But most of all I'll find my worth
Beside the manger at Christ's birth

He left it all, came down for me
He gave himself to set me free
So free my soul from your dark clutch
You've lied and stolen far too much

These foolish things that trouble me
Shall fade into eternity
And when I reach that promised land
No, not on scales - on grace I'll stand.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dear Mom of a Chronically Ill Child

     Dear mom of a chronically ill child, I've been thinking about you all week.  I've gotten the tiniest little glimpse into your life, and I see you more clearly than I ever have.  You see, this week I sit in a hospital with my oldest child.  This week I held my breath and almost vomited as I waited for the surgeon to tell us how it went and the maximum time predicted rolled right by without an update.  I've had the pit in my stomach when I wondered if my child would be okay and the guilt of wondering if I could have done more, done better.  I've watched my child writhe in pain and been powerless to help him.  I've had to go against my peace-loving nature and advocate for my child when I felt that the doctors weren't working in his best interest.  I've juggled the difficulty of having 3 kids at home who want their mama and one in the hospital who doesn't want me to leave.  I've slept on the terrible hospital bed (sort of) and jumped up at his every need.  And I just can't stop thinking about you.  As mother's day approaches this Sunday I wanted to say some things to you that I hope will be affirming.  I wanted to tell you what I think about you as I sit for a very short time in your shoes, knowing that my time here is temporary. 
     Dear mom of a chronically ill child, you are amazing.  You have devoted your life to caring for your child and giving him or her the best possible life.  I know you had dreams, sweet mother.  I know you had dreams for yourself.  I know you had dreams for your family.  I know you had dreams for your child.  You probably didn't dream about having a child with chronic illness.  But now that you have that child I'm willing to bet you wouldn't trade him for all the dreams in the world.  You have taken a difficult task and embraced it, loving your child in the way that only a mother can.  You don't look at your child and see illness.  You look at your child and see beauty.  You look at your child and see love.  Your child may not have the life that you've dreamed about, but your dreams have shifted and you've shifted with them.  Your heart has embraced the challenges of your task, and you are strong and brave and admired. 
     Dear sweet mother, I don't pity you.  Pity is not what anyone wants from others.  No one wants others to look at them with sad eyes and say things like "You poor thing".  You don't feel like a "poor thing".  You feel blessed to have your child.  Your child is not a burden.  Your child is a gift.  So, no, I don't pity you.  You wouldn't want that.  But, dear sweet mother, I admire you.  I validate that your calling is not one that is easy.  No one wants to be pitied, but everyone wants to be validated.  No one wants to feel invisible in the world, and I fear that the calling you find on your life could make you feel that way.  No one else is there to watch you pour yourself out constantly to care for your child.  No one sees that you gave up things that were really important to you so that your child could have the best life possible.  No one knows that you are up at 3:00 AM changing your child's bandages or trying to ease her pain so she can sleep.  No one knows that you haven't slept in a week and you still have to function at top speed to take care of not only your sick child, but you your healthy children as well.  No one understands how hard it is to care for a sick child and also nurture a marriage.  No one knows how isolated you feel when you realize that none of your friends are in your shoes and you worry that no one understands you.  But I want you to know that after this brief experience with a really ill child, I see you a little better.  I won't claim to understand your life.  That would be an insult.  You contain strength that I can't even begin to mirror.  The child that has your heart is in a constant struggle, and you are the rock he leans upon.  You may feel weak sometimes, but I assure you, sweet mom, you are strong.  Celebrities and CEOs and politicians may get lots of air time, but you are a shining star in our world.  You show the love of God in a way that is pure and holy.  I would imagine that you've wrestled with Him on questions like "Why would you let my child suffer?", and I bet you mostly wrestle alone in your own mind, in your own house, afraid to be honest about your struggles because you don't ever want someone to question your love for your child or your faith in God.  But I want you to know that God is using you, sweet mother.  He is telling a story through your life that will bless generations to come.  You may feel small sitting cooped up in a hospital room, but you are a giant of faith putting one foot in front of the other, caring for one of God's most precious ones.  You are not small or invisible.  You are on a plain above most of us, showing us what it means to love the way God asked us to love.
     Dear mom of a chronically ill child, please don't be afraid to ask for help.  We may not understand what you are going through, but we want to help you stand up to your challenge.  We have so much to learn from your strength and bravery.  Don't feel like you can't share your story with the world.  We want to hear it.  We don't only want to know your victories.  We want to stand with you in your struggles.  We want to give you the honor that you deserve.  You are a warrior in the truest sense.  You are important.  You are a hero.  So, Happy Mother's Day, mom of a chronically ill child.  You deserve this day more than any of us.  Thank you for blessing our world.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Haven't Got Time for the Pain


     It occurred to me this morning that yesterday marked one year since I had a difficult shoulder surgery.  I fought having this surgery for a hard nine months, trying every other option to bring healing to my shoulder.  I dealt with intense, nauseating pain for months because I would not let myself consider the possibility of being operated on while mothering 4 very young children.  But finally I relented to the fact that there was no other option for healing than surgery.  So under the "knife" I went.  I won't bore you with all the details of that day and the ones after, but suffice it to say that it was hard.  Having my dominant arm in a sling for 6 weeks and unable to lift with it for 12 was an extreme challenge.  After those 12 weeks my right arm muscles were basically nonexistent (but my left arm was ripped like the Hulk).  My therapist told me it would be 12 months before I was pain free - my surgeon told me 12 weeks (insert eye roll).  But this morning I realized that I have crossed that mark, and I still have pain pretty much every day.  Now don't get me wrong.  I am sooooo glad I had the surgery.  The pain I have now doesn't compare to what I had before.  And now I have full usage of my right arm.  I am not restricted from any activity.  It may hurt, but I can do it without fear of further injury.  But this morning I was playing with Brinley, and her elbow pressed into the spot where they reattached my bicep and almost brought me to tears.  And that's when it hit me: It's been a year, and the pain is still here.  I accepted this morning that this pain in my shoulder is probably always going to be there.  It's likely never going to be "the same".  You can hardly expect it to be when they cut and reattach a major muscle.  But I had hoped for the best (as I always do).  This pain that I carry now is a part of me.  It goes with me and it possibly always will.  So what do I do with that?
     Pain is difficult.  It is rarely invited.  We try so hard to avoid pain - in our bodies, in our hearts, in our souls.  Who goes out looking for pain?  Well, maybe people who get tattoos and run marathons, but you get my point.  We want to protect ourselves from pain, and we want to protect those we love from pain.  Pain is, well, a pain.  Has anyone gathered that this post is about pain?  So let's talk about it.  Because that's something else we don't like to do.  If we talk about our pain it makes us appear weak.  If we admit that we are hurting in our bodies or our souls we fear that others will grow weary of us or think we don't have what it takes.  Besides we are busy.   They are busy.  The world is busy.  And in the words of Sweet Brown in the famous youtube video "Ain't nobody got time for that!"  I assure you I didn't have time to deal with my pain.  But when you are faced with pain you no longer get to choose if you have time for it. 
     Pain comes in many forms, but there is one thing you can count on with pain - IT WILL COME.  It isn't a matter of IF, but of WHEN we will have to deal with pain.  It may come on gradually and intermittently like arthritis or a relationship that feels like a roller coaster.  Or it may come at you with blinding force when you least expect it like a sudden injury or a phone call that leaves you frozen on the floor in a puddle of tears.  In spite of all the effort we make trying to control everything around us so that we can avoid it, it still will happen.  We will feel it.  So what do you do with it? 
     When we look around the world right now and see the anger and bitterness and divisiveness that dominate the headlines, we see the wrong way to deal with pain.  But this is a common way.  Pain creeps in, it sets up camp, and it owns you.  It changes everything about you.  It changes how you view yourself, how you view the world.  It changes your attitude.  It changes your hopes and dreams.  People everywhere are taking their pain, and they are turning it into hate.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  I propose that we each have an important decision to make regarding pain: When faced with pain you cannot eliminate...you can either let it DEfine you or REfine you.  And only you can make that decision.  The pain is unavoidable.  The effects of the pain are up for grabs.  You see, this pain in my shoulder, it has its bonuses.  I learned from my injury that I cannot do everything.  I learned that the world keeps spinning when I am down.  I learned that I am surrounded by people who love me and my family.  I learned to be thankful that I have access to medical care that allows me to not have to spend the rest of my life with my arm in a sling.  But most importantly, this pain reminds me that I am so very dependent on God.  My body and everything I have can slip away in an instant.  Control is a mirage.  Dependence on God is everything.
     Now, you may be reading this and thinking "Man this girl is dramatic about a little shoulder pain."  And you are right, compared to a lot of the pain in the world this little pain is nothing.  Physical pain in many ways pales in comparison to emotional pain.  I have walked some painful journeys emotionally and walked through them with people I love.  And there is some pain that simply changes you forever.  But if we give that pain to God and let Him hold it, that change in us doesn't have to be for the worse.  The Bible talks about suffering in great detail.  And the message from many passages is that ultimately it makes us better.  James 1:2-4 says "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  Pure joy?  Come on James.  For real?  It doesn't feel joyful.  It doesn't feel joyful when the diagnosis is 3 months to live.  It doesn't feel joyful when the pregnancy test is negative for the 23rd month in a row or the ultrasound confirms another miscarriage.  James, it doesn't feel joyful when the divorce papers are served or the cancer is back.  It doesn't feel joyful when the car accident took the person who had your heart.  It doesn't feel joyful when the bank account is negative and the house is in foreclosure.  James, where is the joy in getting the call that one of your dearest friends died in her sleep?  Where is the joy in having a broken body?  James, maybe you got the wrong word.  Can we just consider it horrid?  Can we just be angry and sad?  And we bring these questions to God, and he is big enough to answer them.  But he points us back to his son.  He KNEW pain.   He felt pain.  He carried his own physical pain and the pain of every broken and bad decision any of us would ever make.  But his pain, it redeemed us.  His suffering brought about the hope that changes everything about our pain.  When we live our lives for his glory, our pain is never wasted.  Our pain brings about a new beauty in our souls that the world needs desperately.  The most beautiful souls I have known in this life have often been those with the most tragic stories.  How does that happen?  Well, it happens because the gave their pain to Jesus.  They refused to be DEfined by their pain and chose instead to be REfined by it.  And the pain grew into the fabric of their beings and became a beautiful part of who they were.  When you train your body it is painful.  But the pain brings about strength.  The couch is fun...but it won't make you strong.  It won't prepare you for the hard times ahead.  So what kind of pain are you up against?  What is pressing in on you so hard that you think you might collapse?  There is a place to take that pain where it will be molded into something beautiful.  There is a place for that pain that may not take it away but will make sure that it serves a greater purpose.  There is a place where you can go through the worst time of your life and come out the best version of yourself.  There is a place where the moments in your life that you never would have asked for can become the moments in your rear view mirror that you wouldn't trade for anything - the moments when you became you and God became real.  And this place that takes pain and turns it into beauty is available to you on demand.  Take your pain to the feet of Jesus.  He is strong enough to bear it.  Through his death we have already been DEfined as God's precious children.  And until ours we will continue to be REfined into his image. 

P.S. I would love to pray for you if you are in a painful time.  You can comment here and I will lift up your pain to the Father.