Valentine’s Day Coma

My third year of teaching was the year I watched a completely sweet, wonderful, kind first grader rip open the end of a pixie stick and chug it down. Minutes later, my sweet student, she snapped. The sugar high in full force. Talking a mile a minute, I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t help but giggle. I can only imagine the Valentine’s Day coma she experienced after her bus ride home.

Currently, I am ten years from that moment with my own four children home from Valentine’s Day parties. My kitchen table covered in tiny notes, lollipop wrappers, tiny treasures, and Fun Dips. Ninety-two if I don’t add teacher Valentines into my classmate count to be exact.

Fun Dips (side note) the equivalent, or possibly worse than, a pixie stick.

I never thought I’d be the mom to let them pile their treasures on the kitchen table, currently my four year old has four lollipop sticks hanging out of her mouth. My heart isn’t fretting the sugar high, followed by the Valentine’s Day sugar coma. In my nine years of mothering four, I’d much rather rip the band aid of V-Day candy off quickly, rather than experience the slow burn of hoarding heart shaped  candy until Easter… okay, maybe until Halloween… some years.

As I survey the ninety-two Valentines on my kitchen table, it’s my own coma I am concerned about.

I’m the mother who purchased the ninety-two Fun Dips. My children’s names are signed on each of them. A Valentine easy on the allergies, and a candy pretty easy for primary aged children to write their names on.

Unfortunately, I have a wandering heart. My heart so prone to wander over to the places where I am more concerned about what others think about the kind of mother I am instead of finding true satisfaction in the fact that I’m the kind of mom  just trying to hold this whole motherhood thing together with a little faith and ninety-two Fun Dips.

As I surveyed the creative Valentines on my kitchen table, the personalized Pinterest Crafts, the beautifully put together goodie bags, my heart compared my pixie stick like Fun Dips to what I saw before me. So easily I saw myself as worse. In my mind I saw myself as judged as the Fun Dip mom.

What is the most important medicine for me and my heart prone to wander is that I am not judged by the kind of Valentines I send to school. I think I am judged, but what I think is simply not true.

I have to be intentional to balm my mind in these moments with the truth of scripture. As I survey my kitchen table and consider my own comparison Valentine’s Day coma, I have to remember it is comparison that steals my joy as a mother.

Scripture is so clear when I battle myself in these moments, ” I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

In my own Fun Dip coma, my truth is, I don’t even judge myself it is the Lord who judges me.

This is the balm I need for my own mind as I battle comparison over the ninety-two Valentines on my table.

I am the Fun Dip mom. I am seen, I am known, and I am deeply loved by God.’

This is the truth I preach to myself as comparison may seep through the cracks. This is the truth I need in my own personal Valentine’s Day coma. Comparison is the thief of joy.

The Fun Dip mom is who I am. And that is simply okay.

Simply A Sojourner

Motherhood has given me several hard seasons. Seasons where I found myself at the end of resources, the end of ideas, the end of sanity, and just holding fast to hope in something Greater than myself. Breastfeeding for the first time, adjusting to newborn sleep schedules, toddler stand-offs, potty training, lying and crying on the floor meltdowns (both adult and child), sibling quarrels, and currently first grade spelling and third grade homework.

This month my first born had his ninth birthday. Ninth. Last year in a single digit age, last year I can consider him as a primary grade student. Halfway to eighteen, ninth birthday.

As I have gulped down the cup I have been given, I have thought about my first born turning nine. My thoughts have turned to how my time with my nine year old as his legal guardian has sifted halfway through the hourglass of our time together. And each year seems to pass more quickly than the one before it.

I have left the physical exhaustion of lifting him, carrying him, feeding him and entered into the emotional exhaustion of fighting for his heart. Of listening to him at bedtime when he is ready to talk and I am ready to pass out. Listening as he talks about his friends,  his budding interest in girls, his compassion for others, his frustrations with injustice, his struggles on the bus ride home, and his knowledge about the energy our world uses to keep the lights on.

I’ve pondered how we got here, through the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons. I’ve realized how I want to hold on to the sand in the hourglass of my time with him. I thought about how I don’t want the hourglass to be halfway empty. I want to be present and see our hourglass as halfway full. Full of memories we’ve build together in the bottom, and full of memories to come in the top. I want the time to slow down, my time with him is sifting though my clenched fingers. My time with all four of my kids is sifting away with each moment.

As I have taken a deep breath in and gazed at my clenched hands, God has brought me to a place where I now know, my job as a mother is not to hold on to the sand in our hourglass of time, gripping on to the moments like I have the power to make time stand still. But instead, release the sand I am trying to hold on to in my clenched hands and clasp my hands together in prayer. To let go of the things I cannot control and simply pray for a heart that is ready for the things in motherhood which lie before me and the things which lie ahead. I know I am not the one in control of time or seasons. In the times and seasons, I simply am an agent of God’s love to the things and people He places in my lap.

“He changes times and seasons” Daniel 2:21

Letting go feels difficult because I deeply desire to be the one in control. In the unclenching of my hands I feel God’s invitation to deeper intimacy and trust in the good and perfect plans He holds for me and for my children.

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In motherhood, I am stilled when I think of the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons and realize, I am simply a sojourner alongside my children in each of them. Each season where I find myself at the edge of sanity, I am only passing through. I am simply a sojourner in the season of holding a newborn, a sojourner sitting on the bathroom floor singing songs and reading books about going pee in the potty, I am a sojourner passing through the seasons of tough toddler stand-offs, endless picture books, spelling lists, and children who need my help with their homework.

My hourglasses of time with each of my children somehow are sifting more and more to the halfway mark, we are halfway and we are full. Full of memories we have built with one another as we have sojourned through the sweet and the stretching.

Yes, I am and will always be mom to all four of my children, but how my children need me in each season will always be changing. As simply a sojourner, all I can do is pray that God gives me what I need in the changing seasons, and hope that God is giving my children what they need as they grow into their own unique little people.

He is the Lord over the times as seasons of their lives. I am sojourning alongside as an agent of His love and grace. In the sweet and the stretching I am a sojourner, just simply passing through.

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.

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.

The Gospel Unravels Strength

“If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

I had the opportunity a few years ago to experience what my denomination calls church planting assessment center. Imagine Hollywood Week on American Idol. Long hours of learning the ways God has woven together the unique patchwork of your heart, opportunities to share your testimony in front of your peers and moments of walking down a long aisle where three assessors sit at a table and tell you whether or not you are wired and ready to go and engage as a couple in the kingdom building work of planting new churches.

I walked into the week performing, prepared and properly attired. Church planting is simply starting new churches under the authority of a larger church in our denomination and church planting is statistically proven to be an effective way to share the hope of Jesus with the unchurched. My heart yearns for everyone to know and experience the hope I have in Jesus. I wanted church planting. I deeply desired for God to use me in a place where I felt comfortable enough to swim strongly, I wanted to reach people who were just like me.

Michael Craddock and I sat up front. Michael Craddock loves front row living. There were nine or so other couples in the room with us. Each of the couples is randomly assigned throughout the weekend a time to share both their testimonies and the husband preaches a brief sermon. My desire was to go first. I personally knew I could not sit there and marinate on what I had to say and wrestle with my “I am not enough” demons. Walking into the week I had such an impressive and well prepared speech, I am from total darkness so I believed my story was the kind of story that would certainly be a home run.

But in God’s good plan and perfect timing even with our front row living, Michael Craddock and I did not get the opportunity to stand up in front of the room first, Michael Craddock and I did not even get the chance to share the first night. In God’s good plan, I had to sit and I had to wait. I had to marinate. I had to listen the stories of others and wrestle with the self-pity threads of not being good enough I have woven around my heart. Wrestle with the fact that maybe my story was not that impressive at all. Wrestle with the fact that maybe God wasn’t calling me to what I believed to be was my filet mignon on the buffet line of ministry opportunities.

By the second day around lunch time I still had not had any opportunities to impress anyone. But I found myself sitting next to a pastor I had never met before at lunch, he was an assessor so I had my performance face on. He began to engage my heart and I very safely stayed at the surface. After fifteen years of discussing anything that had to do with the loss of my mother as a child I was very good at rotely responding to questions about my childhood. Beneath all my winding up tight and bootstrap pulling up this was what I had learned to do. But this man wouldn’t let me stay at the surface and I felt the threads from all my winding up tight begin to fray. I could feel hot tears in my eyes. Tears that were supposed to be hidden beneath my tough exterior.

In the waiting I then heard a sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

And then the questioning, the unraveling, the wondering if I am defining strength by the ways of the world or by the ways of the gospel. God’s power was made perfect in weakness? God’s grace is enough? I can be content and even boast about my weak places because the power of God rests upon me? Weakness is strength?

As I sat there, tears still so close to the surface from lunch, I thought about these truths From 2 Corinthians. I thought about the gospel. I thought about living a life of pulling up bootstraps and covering up weaknesses and hardships since that graying day in March in the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I thought of the years I had spent as a Christian covering up weaknesses with scripture to appear impressive and pulled together. Using scripture as a tool to protect instead of a tool to transform.

In God’s perfect timing, we were called up for our turn almost directly after this sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. Right as I was sitting there in my head planning to rewrite all of the things I wanted to say. Hot tears so close to the surface. All my prepared words written out of a worldly view strength, performing well and impressing others now unraveled in pieces around me. I listened to Michael share and when my turn came some words came out that I knew and had rehearsed and then some other words I wasn’t even planning on saying at all. Something about feeling a deep burden and need for planting churches to bring the hope of Jesus and but then tears.

I began to cry. In front of a room of my peers and a long table of assessors I broke out into a hot mess of embarrassment level tears. The next words I said through sobs went something like, “I want to plant a church but I think maybe I haven’t been a Christian for long enough to be a good church planting wife. I just don’t know all the church songs.”

In all my preparedness and pulling up bootstraps I stood in front of that room and ending up sobbing about not knowing all the church songs. It was like my clenched jaw, the gatekeeper of all of those tears opened wide and every single tear I had bottled up for fifteen years began to flow. The words of my pastor friend and the words from 2 Corinthians were like a branch that just gently touched the surface of my frozen pond and I cracked open completely.

This was the beginning of the gospel unraveling my ideas about strength. My learned behaviors of gate keeping tears and hiding behind walls and verses. This is when I began to see I have so much unraveling to do beneath the surface when it comes to processing what strength looks like in Jesus. I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian. So many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As as I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness and rejoicing over healing tears I am slowly unraveling what I how I used to define strength to how God defines strength.

I am learning that following Jesus isn’t about being good enough, living a moral life or how well we can clean ourselves up on the outside. The gospel turns that all upside down and inside out. Following Jesus is about how broken we are and how willing we are to let Jesus shine through the broken places. There are many instances where I am still the insecure, guarded girl in the front seat of the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. God isn’t completely finished with me yet, but he is working on me every so slowly. Philippians says, and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6).

God never did call us to church planting. In God’s good and perfect plan God has continued to make me wrestle in waters in which I feel uncomfortable and not quite strong enough to swim. Just a year and a half after church planting assessment my husband was called to be the lead pastor in an already established church. A role in which I feel inadequate and unequipped for but now that I have unraveled in the gospel I know I can be content in my weaknesses because I am willing to let Christ shine through my broken places. I am enough because Jesus makes me enough.

“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