The Winding Up Tight

While the threads of my story do begin at birth just like every one else’s, the threads of this particular story do not begin at the very beginning at all. The threads of this story begin several years later with a girl in the front passenger seat of a Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan and my father in the driver’s seat behind the steering wheel. We pulled out of our drive on that rainy gray March morning in the Midwest, the kind of morning where you can feel the change of sunshine and blue skies right around the corner, but the grayness of winter is still hanging on. It was raining as the minivan accelerated to twenty-five miles per hour on the short-less-than-a-minute ride down the mostly-straight, slightly-slopping down on the way out to the main road and slightly up on the way home Sycamore Creek Drive, a road though now I only visit once a twice a year I could possibly drive with my eyes closed. I don’t remember where my father and I were driving that day. I know we were sloping down and heading out somewhere. My memory was as cloudy as that overcast day and I can’t recall which way the van turned on that main road. At fourteen on a morning in March I could have been going to the dance studio (my second home), a friend’s house, I could have been late to school or maybe my father was driving me to visit my mother in the intensive care unit in the hospital downtown.

I remember that less than minute drive like it actually lasted a lifetime. Or maybe the memory has been stretched out and hung onto, revisited so many times it now feels like a stretched out knit sweater which was left on a metal hanger to dry in the laundry room. The moment by means of minutes and seconds was short but the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away feel like they have traveled around the world, through time and back again, stretching and weaving into my story across years, seasons, places and stages.

I am the kind of person who cringes at the notion that someone may reach out and touch my shoulder or give me a friendly hug. Physical intimacy has always been difficult for me. I would gladly and firmly shake your hand and flash you a smile but for as long as I remember that is about as chummy as I can get, left up to my own self. So I imagine this memory, this story defining moment as feeling cold. Two people in a car, I in my personal space on my side and my father respecting my personal space behind the driver’s seat the feeling of so much more space than that between us. That day was incredibly gray both the weather and the words that were about to be birthed out of my father’s mouth. I know he labored over those words. Carefully thinking about how to deliver them to me. The last seven years for our family had been less than Leave it to Beaver with my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 and as the oldest child in the family I felt the emotional weight of what was going on. I knew what he was about to tell me. I had felt the weight of what he was about to tell me and carried the anticipation of those words around with me like a heavy cloak.

On the exterior I am a tough girl. It is my nature to pull up bootstraps, march on, hold it all together for everyone else. My deep desire is to appear strong. Appear solid. So with the expectation of my father’s delivery of these words I emotionally prepared myself. I made sure my gaze was fixed opposite of him. I knew if I looked in his eyes I would cry. My firm foundation built upon all the human strength I could muster up was brittle and shallow like a thin sheet of ice on a neighborhood pond. The simple resting of a branch upon its waters could cause the surface to crack, exposing what lies underneath. So I layered invisible walls between us in the front of that Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan. I turned my gaze out the window on that gray day in March. I focused on the blurring line where the slopping curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive. The lines which when riding at twenty-five miles per hour it is difficult to tell where the sloped curb becomes grass and vice versa. My inner monologue chanting ugliness, don’t you be weak Rachel, you better not cry. I stared out the window, my father drove, he labored, he delivered.

“Rach, you know- mom is going to die.”

I didn’t have to look at him to know he was choked up behind the steering wheel on the Chrysler Town and Country minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I could feel his tears through the invisible walls I had built between us and as I tried to focus on that blurred line where the curb met the grass on that gray day in March. Those lines went from a straight streaking blur to a jumbled up swirl of gray-green as my vision became impaired by the tears I was trying so hard to keep myself from crying. There were hot tears in my eyes that I couldn’t stop from coming. I gritted my teeth as if my jaw was the gatekeeper of those tears. Being broken for me was the very worst possible thing I believed I could do for my father in that moment. The news that he had labored over went in one ear at out the other. I wanted to be numb to it.

“I know,” I grumbled in hard-core teenager-like fashion.

When my gritting teeth helped me choke back those tears, my gaze turned up from where the curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive and I saw my reflection in the window, then my father’s reflection and finally I felt the weight of disappointment on my chest. I had screwed it all up. Even with all my wall building. If I could see my reflection in the window, my father could see it too. He knew I was crying. He knew I was hurting. In that moment I believed I had failed at accepting what was happening. In my fourteen-year-old brain I had already reasoned that I had no time for anger, or sadness and forget grief counseling. This was my first test and I failed. When I have recalled the long drawn out threads of this moment, stretched over times and seasons, I honestly can’t reconcile which I am more upset about: the news of my mother’s coming death or the fact that I felt deep shame over being sad about it.

So in that seat on Sycamore Creek Drive I committed to winding up my threads a little bit more tightly. I committed to building greater walls. The more I covered up, the less I would be seen. The less I would be found out for a sad girl unaccepting of her future to live her life without the glue of everything she knew. So I committed to hiding beneath a tough exterior at fourteen the best I knew how. I committed to a life of bootstrap pulling and winding up tight. A committed to a life without anyone ever knowing the real me.

But thankfully I see this moment as the beginning of the story. The beginning is the winding up tight and the rest of the story in the chapters that follow is the loosening of those threads. The unraveling of them. Where overtime, season by season threads are loosed from what I believed was true about strength and brokenness and walking in what God says is true about strength and brokenness.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

when there isn’t much to say

Last night we sat in a booth adjacent to the high-topped bar table in the restaurant where we sat eleven years ago on the night when we were engaged.

Then we were both getting to know each other and there were words, abundant words. Words about my job working with at-risk children in the public schools, words about your job in graphic design, words about our future, our dreams, our future children, our current ministries, our future ministry. Abundant words.

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But last night, eleven years and what feels like a lifetime from a season of dreams, getting to know yous and abundant words– I feared I wouldn’t have much to say to you sitting in the vinyl booth across the table from you on our date.

As I scrambled around the house picking up stray socks and then as I bathed our four children, scrubbed their heads and toweled them off I tried to think of interesting things to tell you.

We had just been out a few nights before so my well of what-to-says seemed dry.

All I could think of was how today as I reached behind the toilet to shut off the water in hopes of keeping the guest bathroom toilet from overflowing, my hair dipped into the toilet water but other than that it was another day of making breakfast, bus stops, volunteering at school then making and cleaning up another meal. All I could think of was the mundane. The wiping of crumbs and the tips of my freshly highlighted hair in toilet water.

And in my fear I worried that you would think I was much less interesting as I had little to say to you from across that booth in that same restaurant where we sat on the night we were engaged over a decade ago.

I thought about how I have little to report, how my mid-section is so much softer (and my rear end section too).

My past reminds me of the times when I have no longer been interesting, I became disposable to people. Replaceable. Leaveable. Forgettable. My demons don’t ever forget this and remind me of the times when there isn’t much to say it’s easier for people to toss me away. In fear, my demons are loud. The foundation of fear is fragile. It’s built on past hurts and tender places. And as I walked around my house in fear yesterday the demons grew and they grew and they grew.

My fear is a breeding ground for my demons to remind me I am not enough.

I fear these dates when there isn’t much to say. When I don’t have inspiring words. When I didn’t do anything to change the world. When the season is mundane. When I’m just a girl in front of you with a softer mid-section and my well of abundant words is dry.

We know marriage is work. We have been through that season.

We know our marriage has been in the convection oven of seminary, ministry, four kids in four years and a senior pastorate. We know it is important to date one another. To not talk about kids or work. To laugh, be light, put down our phones and be present. We have been through that season too–of fighting and wading through time to see one another.

But last night as we sat there in that booth I felt a new unchartered season. A season where I feel uninteresting and mundane. A season where there is not much to say. A season where I am just doing the same thing every day, over and over again. A season of mundane.

But today, as I prepared for a lesson on marriage with my small group– how God designs two people in marriage to be committed to one another, even in the mundane, when there isn’t much to say.

God says, we are loved not because of what we do but because of who we are. And marriage is the same. In marriage you vowed to love me in the mundane because you don’t just see me, a girl in a hard, uninteresting season. You see me, a girl who God is not finished with yet. You see me not because of the things I have to say or what tasks I have conquered that day. You see me and you love me because you committed to do that. In the mundane, until death do us part.

You see me as enough because Christ is more than enough. For you, for me, for us.

I remembered how you sat there with me in the mundane last night. Across from me. The same way you did eleven years ago.

Eleven years ago I would have never told you my fears. But last night I told you I was afraid I didn’t have much to say tonight when you asked me about my day. And you still sat with me. You still loved me in the fears and the mundane and you filled the spaces with conversation when you could and when I couldn’t really do my share I filled my softening mid-section with pasta.

And it was lovely. It was lovely to sit there and not have much to say. To speak fears, to be somewhat silent and lacking words and softening in the mid-section by more mouthfuls of pasta and still be loved.

To be fully known, even on the boring days when there isn’t much to stay and have someone to love you for just being ordinary. This is marriage. This is life. This is choosing to love when it’s nothing but toilet water hair.

When I gazed past you towards the other side of the restaurant I could see that high-topped table. I can remember eleven years ago and picture us there. I can remember having too much wine that night and talking a mile a minute, arms likely flailing, a heart bubbling over with excitement. You laughing at my every word.

And I am thankful for the seasons of dating. The seasons of plenty and want. I am thankful for us then, and thankful for the mundane now. I am thankful you will still chose I do when there isn’t much to say.

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passionate. not terrible. passionate.

She sits there in her room, tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens surround her, a crooked tiara on her head and streaks of orange marker are drawn on her leg from her kneecap to her hot pink painted toenails.

She is forty pounds and forty some inches tall. She is three and she is the fiercest tiny human I have ever known.

I can’t remember whether we were discussing which pajamas she should wear for the night or who should put them on her. But I remember her being assertive with me. She was fierce when she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, No mommy. I will do it myself. Humpf.

After having three boys in three years when I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time I was certain it would be another boy. Boys were what I knew. Surely God was not going to challenge me with the newness of raising a daughter. 

Oh but God has a funny way about things and He did in fact turn my world upside-down and gave us that daughter. We have loved more than we thought we could love and I personally have been challenged more than I thought I would be raising something supposedly filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.

We are so grateful. I am so grateful for her. Our little girl, the last of four children in four years and the only girl, she is precious to all of us.

But she is so fierce. Frustratingly fierce. Passionate. Wanting to go about things her own way. Princess dresses, painted-toes, Batman masks and Boba Fett blasters.

She regularly will grab her brothers and scratch them so close to their eyeballs, leaving Harry Potter-like scratch marks on their foreheads.

She pushes smaller children at play dates. Moments worthy of making me want to crawl into the playhouse and hide or maybe cry.

She was the first of my four children to try out a passion-filled shut up to my face while I was correcting her.

And a few weeks ago while we were visiting my grandmother and grandfather in New York my grandmother had asked one of her kind friends if she would watch our four kids for us while my husband and I attended a grown-ups only event. When we returned there was my girl asleep on the floor. She had protested with my grandmother’s friend all night long. My grandmother’s friend reported to me that the boys were great and she couldn’t understand much of what my girl said all night except when she looked her in her eyes and clear as day said to her, “YOU are NOT welcome here.” 

She just straight-up tells selfless, helpful friends of her great-grandmother they are not welcome. sigh.

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My sweet forty pound daughter. The girl with the big bows in her whispy brown hair and bangles all the way up her arm can be quite challenging. And yesterday as she was being assertive with me I felt the words creeping into my head. Terrible Twos. Even though she is not two anymore. Those words terrible and twos were lurking in the back of my head.

I had to remind myself.

Challenging, yes. 

Terrible, no. 

Fierce, tenacious, passionate. Yes.

Terrible, no.

Assertive, opinionated, strong-willed. Yes.

Terrible. No.

In the moments when the anger starts to bubble beneath the surface and my vat of patience is running low I find myself grabbing on the posh words of parenting which often flash in my face on the Facebook Newsfeed. Terrible Twos, threenager. This is how the world sees her.

And honestly. I have written about this before and finding myself needing to write about this again. These posh sayings are not helpful to me as a parent at all. Parenting is difficult enough. And when you are drowning the last thing you need is the world chanting bitter snarky sayings to you from the top deck. Oh you’re drowning, yeah that’s terrible. It will be a year of terrible, terrible drowning. And then the next year of it will be even worse, but good luck with that.

What I need when I feel the hard prongs of raising up children is someone to throw me a life preserver and hop in the water with me.

And when I breathe deeply, I remember God is with me in the difficult waters. Not shouting unhelpful sayings from the boat but right in the difficult waters.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.

Isaiah 43:2

I can chose to breathe deeply, step out of my frustration, my impatience and on Sundays the crazy eyes produced by my aching pride when she is tenacious in front of a crowd in the front row at church.

I can pray for more peace. More patience. More self-control.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

John 14:27

I can breathe deeply and see the child standing in front of me, in the middle of the tiny plastic pieces treasures, books, and feather pens; with the crooked tiara and the orange marker drawn on her leg.

I can breathe and I can see her as God sees her. Precious. Uniquely knit together. Wonderfully made. A passionate girl in a crooked tiara trying to sort out this thing called life the same way I am.

And then I can be moved to compassion for her. I can remember that sometimes feeling great passion for things produces great emotion. And while I am a grown up and do not experience great passion about pajamas, my sweet girl has only been picking out and putting on her own clothes for a few months now and she does indeed experience great passion about pajamas.

And in my compassion I can correct her outside of my anger and impatience. I can help teach her proper words and tones for communicating independence because while I can be gracious and identify with big emotions and tenacity I will not tolerate sass or disrespect. Girl may be fierce but girl must be respectful to her momma.

And I can remember she is in the waters too. That God is with her. The rivers of passion and difficulty will not consume her either.

That in these challenging passionate days in the middle of tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens, crooked tiaras and streaks of orange marker down her legs, the Lord is near and He is working on both of our hearts.

We are on a journey. It feels terrible but we will get through it. And God promises the waves of difficulty will not overcome either of us.

Changing from the Inside Out

This past year has taught me so much. So much more than I wanted when I asked God to change me from the inside out the last time it was time to resolve to walk better in the new year. My plan was to train for a marathon. Push myself and discover how my body after four pregnancies and four c-sections can do so much more than I once thought it could.

I wanted to read and I wanted to write. I wanted to connect with my husband and make sure I read with each of my four kids, prayed with them, instructed and corrected them faithfully and asked them about their days-each and every day.

And I was able to accomplish some of the above: read pinch more, connect with my husband a tablespoon more and be maybe an ounce more faithful in this role I have called motherhood. I ran a whole lot and actually wrote very little.

But last year was not at all the easy, comfortable, peaceful year I had resolved for myself of loving better, writing more and reading cozy by the fire last time the New Years Ball dropped. It was a year of learning to harness my grief and redefine relationships. And as I’ve poured out my heart in this piece I have decided to only share half of what I learned this past year and follow up in a another piece with the rest.

Grief and relationships. These are my tender places and Brene says,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Last year the changing from the inside out I asked for actually happened- and not from the comforts of a cozy fire. At times it felt like my very own heart was being ripped out. It’s been an unraveling of what I thought I knew. An unlearning of old patterns. And hopefully so many opportunities to weave new healthier patterns, rooted in who God is and embracing the characteristics of being His daughter instead of patterns rooted in what I thought I should do or what others say I am.

Just when I think I have these tender places all figured out, I feel God calling me back to them, to put off the old and put on the new. To continuously undress and redress.

Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.

C.S Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This year I discovered, if you don’t get to know your grief, look at it in the face, become angry with it, cry about it, ask God why about it, you most likely will never be fully healed.

At the beginning of last year I thought my marathon journey was going to be all about me. All about my fitness goals, all about being a bad-ass. But all those miles around town, on the trail and in my neighborhood were actually opportunities to stare my grief in the face. To wrestle, to find closure, to feel broken and human and to find the peace of God which transcends understanding. Looking like a bad-ass this year was not about medals and PRs but instead finding bad-assery in hurts, tears and anger.

As I ran some, walked some, turned off my headphones in the quietness of the trail I got angry thinking about my mom, why she had cancer for most of my childhood and I became angry about her being gone. I hated cancer as I ran. I cried about how the last time I remember speaking to her was probably over some kind of fight we were having about whether or not I should be allowed to spend the night at someone’s house as a teenager or her last memories of me were finding my cigarettes in my room at thirteen or driving the family minivan through the garage and into the dining room while my dad was at work and my mom was receiving chemo at University of Cincinnati Hospital. I hated myself for being such a difficult raging teenager as my mother was breathing her last breaths.

I asked God why I have had to live through having four kids in four years without a parent to call, without someone to listen, without extra hands and without an unconditional-people-who-you-call-about-things-you-can’t-tell-anyone-else- village. I cried about my kids not having Grandma Shelley. I cried because she missed knowing them, she missed knowing my husband. And I know she would have loved my husband and my kids.

All those miles on the trail, I looked my grief in the face. You can walk with God for a decade, have lost someone two decades ago, read good books on grief and still not look grief in the face.

I never had looked my own grief in the face before. I had never taken the time to be mad and sad, frustrated, disappointed. Those are all nasty feelings and for so long I just wanted to push them down rather than feel them. Picking up my boot straps and burying my hurts was so much easier than learning about this tender place. I put band aids on gunshot wounds and for so long I let myself walk in a false sense of peace, not rooted in anything accept what I thought it looked like to be strong and carry on.

My false sense of peace was a breeding ground for insecurity, false hope, cynicism and a whole lot of feeling sorry for myself.

But in taking hold of my grief, learning how and where I am tender, unraveling my yucky strings, I found the comfort of a God who knows suffering.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

I have found thankfulness. To see past the hurts and see how much God has provided for me along the way. Even when I didn’t deserve it with the cars I put in the dining room and cigarettes my parents found in my bedroom only to name two safe stories with you.

How I was an outsider who was brought in. How I have the right and privilege to not just to resolve to be better once a year, but the access of a child of God to His new mercies every single morning.

After a long year of training and running in memory of my mother my plan was to culminate the journey with a Race for the Cure 5K. Something I had never done before because I feared I would be a hot mess of tears for 3.2 miles.

But as I walked that race with my husband and my four kids I was not at all the hot mess of tears I had imagined. I felt whole. I felt shalom-peace for a moment.

Shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, tranquility

Shalom-peace. On the other side of the hard journey of looking grief in the face I was thankful. That the road has not been cozy or comfortable but as I look around me I can see big hurts, feel sorry for myself, make the emptiness big or I can see a big God, who knows big hurts, who is walking with me in sorrow and be thankful for the places where he has me now.

Asking God to change you from the inside out is a scary thing. But when you lay back and let God do the work in your heart, when He begins pulling the skins off, it can hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. But I promise what comes after the hurt is the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. It is freedom. It is peace. It is shalom.

 

 

Screams of Agony

Once, a younger Facebook friend of mine who lived in a home without young children wrote a news feed post that read something like,

“Dear neighbors, are your children screaming because they are dying?”

Often as my own four children howl agonizing screams each evening I recall this post and I think about what the neighbors passing by each evening may think I am doing to cause my children to yell these similar screams of agony.

I’ve decided to share a few of these reasons with you:

  1. The chicken and cheese rolled up inside a tortilla last night were instead served over white rice and baked with additional cheese, corn, and Fritos this evening. Agony.

2. My child has to take a bath. And also has to decide between a bath or a shower. Agony.

3. Someone passed someone on the stairs. Double agony. And biting and scratching.

4. The water is too hot. Agony.

5. My child has to actually have their hair washed in the bath. The soap-sudding and rubbing messes up their hair style. Agony.

6. The water and soap from the shower are touching a completely healed boo-boo on my child’s knee. Agony.

7. When my child’s hair is rinsed with water, the hair must be smoothed down straight. Completely straight. If one strand of hair is crooked… agony.

8. The water in the shower is now getting cold because it took my child too long to get their body under the nozzle. Agony.

9. When it is time to dry off. My children are so cold. So cold. So they are screaming and crying. In agony.

10. If you accidentally towel dry my child’s hair, this messes up their perfect, completely straightened hair style. Agony.

11. If daddy dresses a child instead of mommy or vice versa. Agony.

12. The completely healed boo-boo will hurt if pajamas touch it. Agony. Must slide pajamas on carefully without touching completely healed boo-boo or I will ensue more agony.

13. I brushed my daughters hair. Agony.

14. I picked out the wrong pajamas. Agony.

15. I am trying to breathe and remain calm. My husband and I are laughing amidst this agony. We suggest that these children of ours may be tired and need to go to bed. Agony. They are not tired. What were we thinking?

16. We negotiate with books. We hug them. Cope with them. Tell them they will feel better in the morning once they calm their hearts and go to sleep. It is the two youngers who are in agony. My husband reads to them while I make their warm milk. (I still warm milk for a five and three year old-I am in agony.)

17. The milk is too hot. My three year old likes it warmed at 40 seconds and then she prefers I add one ice cube. The omission of the ice cube ensues agony as well as adding an additional ice cube. Agony. The milk temperature is not right.

18. I forgot the kiss pattern is four kisses and four hugs. Not four kisses and three hugs. (I think he just didn’t feel the last one.) Agony.

All in the space of ninety minutes. Eighteen reasons why you may hear screams of agony coming from my home. No, my children are not dying. My husband and I are simply trying to feed them, bathe them and tuck them into bed. With love.

What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

A Drive Down State Route 741

The windows to my minivan are cracked open and summer anthems play from the car stereo. Today my four kids and I drove from Kings Island to Miamisburg and back again. A hair over forty-five miles round trip.

On the drive I have passengers with me, three boys aged eight, six and five. All of whom would quickly clear their throats and add a half of a year to those ages I mentioned previously if they themselves were the tellers of this story; and a girl three and a  half. Her curls bouncing in the summer air and as untamed as her God-given personality.

As I drove down State Route 741 I drove passed my high school, junior high, elementary school, hometown ice cream spot, dentist office, my father’s work place and the mall where I had my first job.

As I drove down 741 I remembered so many summers of my mother driving a minivan up and down the same road, windows down, some kind of music loud. Me in the backseat at eight. My sister six and my brother aged four.

I have so many sweet memories of watching my mother joyfully drive as we sat behind her in the passenger seats of the minivan. She was singing, silly, vulnerable and wildly free. Driving up and down that State Route road to take us to ice cream shops, dance practices, movies, Kings Island. Her smile from the front seat was vivid in my memories as I cruised my hometown streets with my own children on this summer afternoon.

In my own nature, seriousness, order and work first, play later are the traits which make me tick. It is quite difficult for me to find spaces where I can completely let go and be free from my internal to do list. My straight hair which would never hold a curl is as indicative to my personality as the three year old who has the bouncy curls, the one whose curls are as untamed as her God-given personality.

As I drove today down State Route 741, it felt like I was driving though so many memories. So many spaces in the nooks of my memories where beneath the pain of losing my mother there are so many happy smiles. So many joyful times of being in the backseat of the minivan and experiencing my mother singing, silly, vulnerable and wildly free.

For so many summers I have wanted to push her smile away because it was too painful for me to remember. Pain is the process by which I can access these memories and as I walk through the pain, I find joy on the other side and a challenge to live life in the same way my mother did. To break through the mold of who I think I am supposed to be. To let go of seriousness, order and work first, play later. To let the windows down, sing a little louder and feel the summer breeze tousle my straightened hair for a time.

To step out of who I think I should be and remember the parts of my mother which brought me joy. This is the medicine I need. This is why a drive down State Route 741, windows down and summer anthems loud is good for the soul.

Marriage: From Googly Goggles to Grace Goggles

Eleven years ago I was packing up my first classroom and my first big girl apartment in Lexington, Kentucky walking into a week which had the words my wedding marking the end of the of the week on the desktop calendar in my fifth grade classroom as well as the calendar stuck to the refrigerator in my apartment kitchen.

I didn’t know it then but I was so googly-eyed for Michael Craddock when I think about that week. Googly-goggles blurring my vision and masking all of my soon to be husband’s flaws. It was my infatuation with Michael Craddock and my googly-goggles that carried us from dating to engagement and finally to the altar, from first date to I do for forever in a little over nine months. Blinded to Michael Craddock’s humanity by my googly-goggles.

What I know now is googly-goggles, infatuation and human effort are certainly fleeting. Humanity, flaws, imperfections and missteps are as much apart of Michael Craddock as they are to every human. Humanity and imperfections are so apart of my own self.

There will always be tension between two imperfect humans living seasons and lifetimes alongside one another but when the goggly-goggles no longer mask human imperfection, in Christ-centered marriage, God provides spiritual goggles of grace, the goggles of true righteousness and holiness made after the likeness of Christ. The goggles of grace which enable me to see my spouse as the way God sees him. Human, imperfect and flawed, but at the same time seen and deeply loved.

Goggles of grace which are spiritually blinding to imperfection in contrast fleeting human effort, infatuation and goggly-goggles.

The goggles of grace help me see my spouse not with the worldly magnifying glass which maximizes things the world defines as imperfect. Goggles of grace enable me to see the unseen, to see a transformation happening beneath the surface-inwardly my spouse is being made new day by day and I have the privilege of sitting in the front row to experience this transformative growth and change.

“When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves  your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change.” Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

After I will and I do for eleven years, four thousand and fifteen days and what feels like forty thousand diapers, I desire to be the kind of wife who chooses to put on the goggles of grace. To put off the worldly pattern of loving out of infatuation and loving only off of the high of the feeling of love. To let the worldly and fleeting pattern unravel away. I desire to be renewed in my mind with the ways of God and put on the goggles of grace, made after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I do not choose goggles of grace in every moment, I have so much unraveling to do, but I know God is not finished with me yet.

Googly-goggles may have gotten us to the altar, but it is only grace goggles which will enable us to walk through the rest of our days here on earth alongside one another.

Marriage needs the constant balming of grace and I am thankful to be on the journey alongside my husband as little by little God is redeeming the both of us in marriage and making us both new not because of what we do but because of who He is.

Yes, outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

photo by Bumblebee Photography

Parenting: Encouraging Uncool

In the early nineties I remember Saved By The Bell, Full House, New Kids on the Block, turtlenecks and the first desire of my heart to be cool. I was in early elementary school and this desire to be cool and fit in was as big as the boom box stereo my mother let me take on the bus to Jonathan Wright Elementary School.

The white turtlenecks, the Kmart matching sweatpant and sweatshirt sets, my clumsiness and natural given goofiness somehow, no matter how persistent I was to follow the boom box sized desire, in my early elementary years I never found myself being in with the in group.

What I wish I knew then is everyone is just trying to fit in. Everyone is working so hard to be liked. Everyone on the playground wants someone to know them and see them and after seasons of eventually finding myself at the cool table, I know the cool table is not all it is cracked up to be. I know a seat at the cool table is in fact an empty and unsatisfying goal when you find yourself there; especially when maybe you were never meant to be there in the first place.

What I know now is the people who I still have friendships with, friendships I find deeper than how are you doing, what are you doing and what kind of house do you live in are the friendships founded in seasons of uncool. The friendships which have permeated bad perms, braces and going out with the wrong guy are all friendships I initially formed when I was quite uncool. When my trying to be cool mask was off and I was my true nerdy, awkward and clumsy self. My truest friendships have been formed when I was not trying to work so hard to impress others but bare-boned, unashamed and free.

What I know now is I still struggle with the desire to fit in, be cool, to be well liked. I still carry this desire as big as boom box around with me in adulthood, the desire for someone to reach out and say, you are precious in my sight. The desire someone to say,  I see you as you are and you are loved as you are.

I have carried this desire around for so long it is easy for me to recognize it in others, similar to seeing a reflection of myself in a mirror.

So as I walk in this season with my own early elementary aged child, I see the desire of his heart to fit in. My heart breaks for him but at the same time, because this is my very own achilles heel I know how to sit with him in this season. I know how to identify with this very distorted desire to run with the self-proclaimed cool kids. I know how to talk with him about how friends are people who we can be our bare-boned and unashamed selves with. And I know how to kneel by his bedside with compassion and encourage him to be himself even at his uncoolest.

The true friends are the people who see us and love us even when we are in fact very uncool. True friends are the people who know we may still snort when we laugh and true friends are the ones who permeate bad perms and tough seasons.

I personally have become quite a fan of not fitting in. I have tried to squeeze myself into the mold but the mold of what is currently cool is not really my size.

I know God uniquely knits all of us together for his purpose and his glory. I want to raise children who embrace their white turtlenecked-God-given molds. He sees us and loves us completely, bare-boned and unashamed. And I want to encourage my children to  seek friends who see them as God sees them: precious in his sight, uniquely knit together, wonderfully made, even in the seasons of uncool.

To raise uncool kids who know they are deeply loved as they are, bare-boned, unashamed and free. This is how I use my boom-box sized desire to fit in, my story of drinking from the muddy, stagant and unsatisfying waters of acceptance and fitting in (Jeremiah 2:13) and seek to raise a new heritage of children secure in the Lord.

We are in fact precious in his sight. Bare-boned, unashamed and free. I want this truth to permeate the desire to be cool. I want to encourage true selves in stark contrast to what may currently and fleetingly be cool.