The Weakness of Parenting a “Strong Willed” Child

May 21, 2018

Church this week went like this: We got there slightly early because I was the reader and Henry played cello. The kids settled into a pew, took out their paper and all the pencils and offering envelopes in the pew back holder. They began their normal ritual of paper airplane making, fighting and coloring. Wyatt continually wanted my attention as I tried to listen to instructions and have a quick conversation about the reading. The service started but the loud talking and fighting didn’t stop. Many times, I had to lean over to have word with them or stand in between them and Wyatt often had to be asked two or three times to show me he was listening. Nothing I did made much of a difference in their behavior. Then it came time for the kids to gather up front to be dismissed to their classes. After months of battling to get them to go to Sunday school, because we knew it would be good for them to make friends, Wyatt has decided he no longer likes it. So, as I am trying to keep hold of Ginny’s hand and assure Gilead I’m coming with them, I’m trying to pull Wyatt along and let him know it’s going to be okay.

He’s screaming and red-faced, holding onto the side of the pew with his other hand and digging in his heels in the middle aisle. I’m the last mom there – the only person left standing in the front of the whole church – and this is what’s happening. I wish I could say it’s not normal but it, or something like it, happens every single week. There’s always screaming and whining. It’s constant at home as well. On our way to the class in the parish house, I have to reassure him every two steps in order to get him to come. And then there’s a dog. It’s in a cage, behind a fence, but he believes it’s going to be inside the house and this starts up a whole new round of whining, all the way up the stairs. Once we get to his classroom and seated, he’s fine, as I knew he would be.

Later, at the all-church lunch, we end up sitting outside with the overflow crowd. The problem is that the dog is there too. It’s on a leash, surrounded by other kids (who are all thrilled, by the way), but Wyatt is beside himself with fear. It’s impossible to carry on a conversation or eat my own meal. He can’t be reasoned-with. He’s screaming and crying; genuinely terrified.

By the time we finish our meal, I am exhausted. I am ready to go home. There’s nothing anyone else can do to help me, and I can’t participate in the social scene there at the church picnic. And this is what most of our outings are like – even if it’s just going out in our yard.

Wyatt is often the only kid in the whole place who is afraid of something, like the dog, or doing something, like screaming and whining that sets him apart from all the other kids. For this reason, as well as how we are often left to deal with his outbursts, we feel singled out, left out, embarrassed, and like failures.

But I don’t describe this to get pity. Much less do I want anyone to figure out his problem for me. I felt like we’d already been through the same thing with Gilead, just about different issues. We were told he was hyperactive by nursery workers. He was always the kid hurting other kids at a play date; mortifying me. I’m somewhat inured to the embarrassment of Wyatt because I had already had to accept it before. Gilead grew out of some of that. I have a feeling, however, that Wyatt is always going to be a challenge. I don’t have time to go into all of my intuitions about him here, but he’s a unique challenge. He doesn’t seem to fit into any boxes. I love him so dearly but he exhausts me and there often is no logical solution to any given problem with him.

And yes, we’ve been given lots of advice. All over the map. In fact, it’s almost excruciating to come up for prayer because inevitably, advice follows. It’s always well-meant. But do you know how hard it is to be in this position? If you do know, then you really know, I bet. You feel my pain and embarrassment. If you don’t know, it’s okay. There are other issues in your life I don’t get.

In every church I’ve ever been in, even the ones heavy on the prayer ministry, and with almost every Christian person I’ve met the response to someone hurting, openly needy and asking for help is usually the same: concern and well-meant advice with a sprinkling of prayer. It’s highly unusual to meet someone who can bear to sit with you in your pain and accept you and what’s happening to you.

Do you know that it is a much, much harder thing to receive help than to give help? That’s why we give each other all kinds of systems for parenting. It’s a lot less scary to sit in a seminar or read a book and implement a system than it is to confess that you don’t know how to help your kid. To suffer the embarrassment of their public bad behavior and then have the humility to say you know you need God’s help and ask for prayer.

I have to confess that I’m so tired of advice. I am tired of self-righteousness in Church.

Yes, advice can be helpful. Yes, sometimes someone sees something in a way that you can’t, and God can use their words. More often, it confuses the issue. It makes me think that if I can just pluck up enough determination, I can really turn this thing around. It points me away from the truth.

What’s that? What truth, you say?

Well, I’m beginning to see this weakness-as-strength thing as the all-pervasive truth. Maybe the only truth there is in the universe. If it’s true that I come to Jesus with nothing morally, and that even the good I do is tainted by sin (this is what Romans says), then it’s true in the realm of parenting as well. Even my good intentions, even the good I do toward my children suffers the same fate.

And what does Romans say about all that? “There is now no condemnation.”

No condemnation

I have to tell you, those rules and systems and pieces of advice feel a whole lot like condemnation. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why do we keep giving each other advice instead of giving each other ourselves? Because it’s easier. It’s less scary. It’s less time-consuming. It’s less humbling – especially when you can get yourself in the position of teacher or advice-giver. And then you start to get a whole church full of advice givers. I know. I’ve done it and have aspired to do it for many years. I’m just as guilty as anyone else in church. But I am truly, truly sick of it.

It took me years to unlearn some subliminal messages about the nature of God because of what I thought I was hearing from authority figures in my life: that I had to be good for God to accept me, that He was mad at me or couldn’t hear me when I prayed to Him because of sin in my life. I definitely don’t want to start seeing God as advice-giver, because he’s not.

The only parenting model I want to follow is the one I’ve been shown in Jesus. And I hope someone on the periphery of the church is going to read this and that they will be able to hear past how those words sound, because this really is good news. I talk church talk because I’ve been steeped in it. But anyway, God has never parented me this way. Jesus has never befriended me this way.

This morning, in the shower, I found myself trying to strip this down to its most essential question. Can I love Wyatt even if he never changes? I feel so unworthy, so inept. And most of the time, too tired. And then, on the heels of that, Jesus can you love me even if I never change?

Do you love me even if this is all there is?

tully

Did anyone else make their husband take them to see Tully on Mother’s Day? No? That was just me? Well, I have to say that it definitely struck a chord. I would recommend it. 

I didn’t need any kind of supernatural answer to that question, even though I did feel His presence in the answer. Because I already know the answer. It’s yes, of course. He goes before me. He loves me into being human enough to love him back. He’s NEVER given me a set of rules to follow. In fact, this religion is hard to understand from the outside because it isn’t, properly, a religion. It’s devotion to a person. And that person came to die, to be humiliated, to suffer for me. He’s only calling me to do for Wyatt what he’s done for me. Not manipulate him into having better behavior, but actually to pour myself out for his sake, so that he can be changed by love. Do you see the difference? One of those things is primarily for my sake – so that I can not be embarrassed by Wyatt’s bad behavior, so that my life doesn’t have to be so interrupted. The other is a labor of love. It requires me to see beyond the bad that Wyatt is doing right now in order to call out his true self. It requires me to put down my agenda in order to sit with Wyatt and really see him. It requires that I put aside my own needs sometimes because he needs me to calm his fears and correct his wrong ways of thinking. It means I have to cuddle when I want to put him in time-out. Or, more often, do both. It requires nothing less than a kind of death; to me. To self. Because if I don’t do it; if I refuse to suffer for Wyatt, then Wyatt suffers for me, for my selfishness.

I realized yesterday this principle can pretty much be applied across the board. I like the line “if it’s us or them, it’s us for them” from the Gungor song Us For Them. Maybe that’s something of what it means to be a spiritual parent to someone whether or not you have a biological child. It’s certainly what it means to follow Christ. I’ll just channel Tim Keller here and say that this is therefore the only absolute truth claim it’s safe to make. That’s why we get so dogged about it, us Christians.

And I have no hope of doing this on my own.

That doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless. On the contrary. It’s just scary because I can’t put any hope in my own performance. I have to put it all in Christ and what He’s done. Even when I can barely hope. Even when I can’t pray. Even when I can’t see the truth.

But thank God, right?


The Great Thing About Giving Up

May 17, 2018

 

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I’ve done a fair amount of giving up in life. A few days ago I wrote about having given up at music in college. I gave up trying to run and grow my own business. I give up on healthy diets all the time. I’ve given up coffee too many times to count (it’s easy! I do it all the time!).

To be fair to myself, there were some extenuating circumstances in some of those instances. I probably could have put in some more effort or gotten some counseling to help me not give up. Or, I may have needed to lose some of those things to figure out they weren’t right for me.

However, this isn’t the kind of giving up I had in mind when I wrote this title just now. The “oh well, I’m no good at anything anyway.” The Eyeore Mindset I have spent time perfecting. Nope. Here’s what I mean, and then I’ll get to the good part:

I have often had it in my head that, in order to have a sense of self or a sense of worth, I had to be going somewhere. It was okay that I hadn’t gotten there yet, as long as I was on my way in some way. As long as I was making, or re-making, myself by my own rules and following my own heart, I was doing just fine and I could look people in the eye and tell them I “wanted to be a jazz singer” or I was “planning to go to film school” or I “owned my own jewelry business.” When really what I was doing was nannying and working two part-time jobs or half-assing my way through a music degree I hated and wasting my Dad’s money. As long as I had dreams, I had something. I had some kind of future to which to pin my identity. As long as I was in transit to something acceptable, I would be fine for now. And I knew that as long as someday I made it, someday I got to where I’d imagined I would be, I would finally feel at peace. Every celebrity memoir I’ve ever read is the glorification of that drive. I’m listening to one right now. It’s hilarious.

Then later, I pinned my identity on becoming like the mothers I saw around me with 12 perfectly clean children who all spoke Latin and Greek and played classical piano by the age of 8. I had to be eternally pregnant but thin and with-it. I had to be commanding with my children but yielding with my husband. I had to bake my own bread! But it had to be gluten-free. I had to breastfeed until age 7 but still look bangable for my husband at night. Not to mention family prayers three times a day.

Except that’s all complete crap. And I repudiate it. I choose to be a loser. Why?

Well, for one thing, the target shifts every time you attain something. Listen to any podcast made by any famous person. That, or it’s the opposite of what you wanted, or it’s transitory. See Jonathan Brandis.

Those “dreams?” The ones all the Disney princesses sing about? I don’t know how they make anyone happy!! They’re a crock of shit if you ask me. I have some really successful friends. And I know without having to ask them that it’s probably scary and lonely near the top. I also know that they still need all the same stuff I do and have all the same fears. I also know they probably still aren’t doing what they set out to do. I mean, who does that? Like 1% of people. But so many of us still believe that the attainment of something will make us happy. I know I do most times. It’s the gospel according to the whole world. And I include in that all the bullshit that gets thrown your way when you’re a mom. Yes, make good decisions for your children. Yes, be thoughtful. But all the rest? Repudiate it as often as possible. IMHO.

Now, here’s the good part.

When I am at my lowest point; when I can admit that I have utterly failed to do the things I had set out to do at 15, or 24 or 30 and that it’s too late to do them, I’m free. I don’t mean that I think I will never take up a new skill or create something new or get better at piano – or even write a book! I don’t mean that I give up on my kids and on giving them the best I can. I mean, I will never be famous. I will never marry a Hanson. I will not be a jazz singer or a rock star. It’s unlikely I will go to film school. And my kids aren’t going to be well-rounded geniuses. So be it.

When I am at the end of myself, I am finally free. And it’s not a free-fall. Honestly, I feel like I can breathe for the first time in a long time. When I finally admitted that the problem isn’t the money and it isn’t the house and it isn’t that I never had a career – it’s me. The problelm is me…it was a weight off my shoulders.

And yes, you may have to grieve some of it. But sister, you don’t owe anyone anything. Not even Jesus.

Now go outside and breathe. Stand in the sun. Take a walk. Stop thinking about your disorganized pantry. Give yourself permission to accept that you aren’t a broadway star, and cry about it if you need to. And then cry about how badly you fucked up this morning with your daughter. And then just be in that moment with Jesus and let him stand there with you. And you’ll know what to do next.

 

 


Blessed Are The Losers

May 12, 2018

I am a loser.

Wait. Hang on. Don’t rush to tell me I’m not, that God loves me, that He made me for a purpose. I know all that.

I don’t come here boldly proclaiming my loser status to get sympathy or disagreement from anyone. I say it because one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen at church was when a man stood up and, as he was introducing a man who is a recovering alcoholic who had gotten help from our congregation, stated that he was also an alcoholic. Kind of as an aside. Like everyone should know that about him. And let me just tell you, there’s a world of difference between these two men. The guy who was doing the introducing has a much higher socioeconomic status and mental capability than the other. But with those four words, “and I am too,” he leveled that.

I say that I am a loser because we have lost sight of our ability to accept weakness in this country and as a Church. And I think, after struggling through this for many years now, I am starting to understand something. My strength lies more in my weakness than it does in anything I can do well. And I think the same is true for the church.

I’ve never felt like a winner, honestly. There were a few times when I felt proud of an accomplishment, or a piece of art I had put my heart and soul into felt like it came close to what I’d envisioned, or my personal appearance was close to satisfactory. But precious few. And those were mostly – if not all – before I had kids. I’ve written about this before: I’ve never been poorer, fatter, or felt more out of control of myself and my trajectory. It all got taken away from me: starting with financial freedom and stability, continuing on to the ruin of my body, the loss of solitude and the loss of mental and emotional space to create anything. I’m basically a dry husk.

And now I’m entering into a brand new arena of failure: home schooling. Vast new worlds full of beautiful women with well-behaved children and perfect kitchens and nature corners have been unveiled to me. More of them than I ever could have imagined existed.

And what is it all worth? I’m here to tell you: nothing. It’s all bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love beautiful things. I love order and peace. I love to put a good meal in front of my family with nice serving dishes and I believe those things are important…in their place.

It’s just, when does it stop? I love Charlotte Mason (insert other education method here, if you’re into that sort of thing) because she says some of the truest things about children and people. But if I read her words and immediately identify ten MORE ways in which I am failing and can never hope to not fail at, what has this method done for me? It has become death. This particular law has become death to me.

You can see it anywhere: take weight gain or diets. Fat acceptance movement notwithstanding, you’re not going to convince me that it’s better and more healthy to be large than it is to not be large. But the alternative to not accepting being fat is some combination of judgment from the world and working really hard without feeling like you’re getting anywhere. Cuz most of us aren’t going to look like Heidi Klum no matter how hard we work. Especially not after 4 babies. And even if I think you look as good as Heidi Klum, chances are you don’t feel like Heidi Klum.

pinafore

I spent a good amount of time last Summer salivating over this dress, and looking like this in this dress. I think it cost something like $700 when it was being sold.

I’ve been told, in various ways by various people, to press in to the hard things. When my kids aren’t behaving well, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by motherhood and homeschooling. Even in my spiritual life – in the transformation Jesus wants to do in me. Is that good advice? Yes, of course we have to do things that are hard sometimes. And sometimes that’s what Jesus does want.

But stepping back, all too often it creates a harsh culture for anyone who doesn’t fit in. What about those good things you want me to press into if I can’t do them very well, or worse, if I can’t manage them at all? Suddenly I am on the outside looking in on the small group of people who seem to be able to do them OR I am lying so I can stay on the inside. So I can continue to be in the club.

I’ve seen it happening with breastfeeding, co-sleeping (or not co-sleeping), attachment parenting (or Babywise), healing prayer (or rigorous Bible study), various theological differences, worship music styles, weight loss or diet choices, home birth (or hospital birth), vaccinations (or non-vaccinations), home schooling (or even which homeschooling method you choose), the list goes on and on and on… And that’s just in the tiny little Christian bubble I’ve been part of for so long.

What I think I’ve found out, from the perspective of a chronic outsider (don’t mind me. I’m an Enneagram 4. It’s just how we do.) is that sometimes people give a lot of advice from a place of strength. They’re actually really good at something and it’s natural to them. They have people asking them stuff and it’s life-giving to help out. The problem is when it becomes a gospel. When it supercedes THE gospel.

Sometimes people aren’t as in tune with their weaknesses as I am right now. Or they don’t want to admit them. Hi, I’m Jenn. I’m 36 and never had a career. I dropped out of the conservatory of music at Wheaton. I never went to film school like I said I was going to. I never moved away from my college town until forced to by God. I have spent the last 7 years overweight and chronically yelling. I am socially anxious and awkward. I struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts even though I believe in Jesus. I was not the purest of pure going into my marriage. I struggle every day to be present to my children and most days I lose or give up on that battle. I don’t read my Bible all that often or pray every day. I say I am home schooling but we aren’t doing very much. My kids are often rude to people and they fight with each other. They are scared of new people and new situations. I hate letting my kids cook with me and only make myself do it rarely. I still can’t play a B chord on the guitar. I let my kids watch tv every day. I let my boys play Minecraft several times a week, sometimes for an hour or more. I’ve read three novels this week. Not literature novels. And not out loud to the kids.

Do I say this to say I’m not good at anything? No, I don’t think that. I also don’t think I’m worthless or not good at anything. Honestly, I don’t even think these things are my worst failings and I certainly don’t think they keep Jesus from me. But they are true. And I’m not proud of them. And I think that’s a perfect place to start.

But here’s THE gospel if you wanna hear it: it’s all that bullshit turned on its head. Jesus divested himself of all the power, strength and beauty he had. And of his life. Jesus became a loser, like me. And He told all the other losers that they were blessed. And then he got a bunch of losers to follow him because they had nowhere else to go. And those are pretty much the only kinds of people, still, who are willing to follow him. But they changed the world.

 

 


Goodbye, Mr. Graham

February 21, 2018

I just received an email from my Alma Mater, Wheaton College, that Billy Graham has gone to be with Jesus.

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I had to write because I recently finished watching Season 2 of The Crown, which is one of the best shows I’ve watched in a very long time. Like, I think sometimes Mad Men got to this level, and also Battlestar Galactica, but I can’t think of anything else in recent years that has been this good, all around.

The show is just good on all levels: set, costume, acting, production…the writing is the best part. Mr. Peter Morgan, I applaud you.

What I love best about the show, however, is embodied in one of its simplest scenes – between Queen Elizabeth and Billy Graham. It wouldn’t be so beautiful if not for the witness of Elizabeth throughout the first part of the series. We find her to be a solid rock – though everyone around her keeps trying to tell her she’s invisible; swallowed up by the crown. Again and again, I have found myself admiring this woman, and feeling thankful for her, though she’s not my queen.

crown

In the scene I’m remembering, what you notice most is Elizabeth’s hunger, not for recognition or fame, but for a word from a godly man. You see, in the scene between Graham and the Queen, a kinship she doesn’t have with anyone else. It brought to mind the reports I had read of her words in the book she’s released on the celebration of her 90th birthday – that she is grateful to God for his steadfast love and that she has “indeed seen his faithfulness.”

It was a comfort to me to think of these two leaders meeting together. That they both loved Jesus. That it made them better leaders. I can only hope and pray for some more like these in the future.


Fasting

February 14, 2018

I’m in no position to be writing about this. As I write, I’m mentally reviewing all of the terrible food choices I’ve made since Christmas and the subsequent mini- breakdown in my physical and emotional health. We’ve been bringing a steady stream of bottles of alcohol into the house. Not enough to fill a liquor cabinet Not even enough to take up any real estate in the kitchen. But enough that when we run out we get more. The desire for a drink in the evening has become more prominent than either of us would like.

I had wanted this post to be more victorious, and there is some victory in it, but right now I am mired in my own weakness and need.

I had wanted to start a fast today. An honest-to-goodness food fast that would go for at least 10 days. I had planned to have only water and green smoothies during this time. In order to be ready for this fast, I had wanted to cut out grains, starches, sugars, caffeine and alcohol in the weeks leading up to it in order to make the transition easier in the first few days. But last week we started school with my 7 year old for the first time ever. As I was trying to cut these things out of my diet, do school, prepare for guests and keep up with my writing work (which is seriously very minimal), I slowly lost the will to keep even those things out of my diet. They crept back in, one by one. So today – or tomorrow – is more about starting over again than triumphing.

This – starting over again – seems to be the story of health, and of fasting, for me. The whole reason I had the crazy idea that I could fast for 10 days in Lent is that I had experienced some success in this arena this Fall. Before that, the few times I had tried fasting went very badly.

For as long as I can remember, I have had blood sugar problems. As a kid, I had to race to the milk and cereal as soon as I got out of bed to stave off the sick hunger I felt as soon as I woke up. A couple of hours later, I would crash again. I eventually self-diagnosed an addiction to sugar/hypoglycemia. I concluded it was messing up my adrenal function, contributing to my depression and anxiety and controlling my life more than I wanted to see clearly. Toward the end of college I made some attempts to cut grains and sugar out of my diet. I usually caved after a week or made some legalistic exception in order to “keep the fast” without the actual benefits of cutting sugar out of my diet. Except for one curious incident, I always returned to a more-or-less “healthy” version of the SAD (Standard American Diet).

The curious incident was this:

In order to be prescribed medication for my depression and anxiety in college, the doctor wanted me to take a five hour glucose tolerance test. This is where you go in to the hospital, drink a disgusting high-sugar drink on a empty stomach and let them draw blood every half hour for five hours so they can track how your body is responding to the sugar. If it turned out I had a blood-sugar problem, she wanted to treat that first before putting me on medication.

For a person who couldn’t drink pop or eat anything sugary by itself at any time of day without immediately getting a headache or feeling a distressing combination of nausea, light-headedness and weakness in the pit of my stomach, I went into this test afraid that I would spend the morning vomiting. I knew, at least, that I would have a very wretched time. But I was sure it was going to mess me up for a week. At this point, I doubt I had ever fasted until lunchtime.

I did feel wretched, although I never vomited. But what I experienced was an after. The nausea and light-headedness passed. I returned to more-or-less normal after the sugar storm passed. I was just hungry. And I proceeded to down a McDonald’s meal as fast as physically possible.

I don’t know how I avoided gaining the weight I eventually did for as long as I did. I knew my diet wasn’t good, but I was lazy. My right hand was reading books about nutrition that were on the extreme end of the crunchy spectrum while my left hand was routinely putting large slices of pizza in my mouth. I told myself that a long walk or run once or twice a week was evening things out.

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My church at the time did a church-wide fast twice a year (or quarterly?) in order to unify, and come together to pray over the ministries and plans for the future. It took me years to even listen to the call to fast and be part of it, but eventually I wanted to try. The plan was to fast for 24 hours, come to the prayer meeting at 6 or 7 p.m. and eat afterward together. I never made it until after the meeting. A day of only drinking grape juice (I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea) would inevitably leave me panicking to eat as soon as I left work. Pretty soon after that I entered a long, exhausting march of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Fasting was not in my lexicon. But I did start gaining weight I couldn’t shake off, and my desire to change my diet intensified.

Enter Whole 30.

When we moved here, I had tried going Paleo once or twice with little success. My new friend, Joanna, announced she was doing a Whole 30 and that was all I needed. She was my rock – without even knowing I was relying on her. The first time I tried Whole 30 was in Lent, appropriately. It felt like a spiritual experience. And for the first time, I experienced my cravings falling away from me. Sugar had lost its grip on me for a time. I hear this is what actual fasting is like too – after about 3 days you stop feeling very hungry.

This was two years ago. I lost and regained water weight a few times and then I discovered intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting can be practiced several ways, but the way I did it was through fasting for part of every day, rather than a prolonged fast once or twice a month. You can look up the benefits of fasting if you want to have your mind blown, but I’m not proselytizing for fasting here. Of course, you will probably lose weight, but my desire has always been to free myself from the cravings and addictions of food. Whole 30 was great, but intermittent fasting combined with a diet as low in sugar and refined carbohydrates as possible made me feel like a different person. I finally started to lose more than water weight.

The problem is that those foods are always lurking. I’m always just one french fry stress-eat away from letting it all tumble down around me. But I’m starting to be okay with that.

For one thing, once your body gets into ketosis once (where it’s burning its own fuel rather than the sugars you’re consuming) it’ll get into ketosis again much faster the second time. I have found that to be very true. Now, it doesn’t take a week to start feeling the changes to my gut and my clarity when I cut out those foods again – more like 2 or 3 days. Now I know it’s not impossible. I’m actually, at any given time no matter how badly it feels like I’ve fallen, only about 2 weeks away from starting to lose weight again. There might be a few days of genuine suffering in between but I have learned to suffer a little bit too.

I find this whole process to have been God’s way of showing me, in real time and with my own body, what it means to be His. Fasting, as I have been told for years, simply reminds me of the truth. I need. I am not coming to this with any strength.

And so I enter this Lent with less will than ever before. I have less determination to do Lent right; to really fast. I feel so weak. But I also know that it all it takes is one small yes, one little mustard seed of intention for God to use. In two weeks, my outlook could be completely different.

So I would like to do it at some point during this Lent: try an actual fast. I think the place I’m in is pretty good: the acknowledgment of my need. But I’d like to try to go further. I’d like to try to press in to that place more. I want to see what happens after, what place I get to on the other side of some suffering.

God bless you as you press in this Lent. I pray you do. And I pray you, too, get to see what comes after.


Christ In Summer

October 7, 2017

pexels-photo-207247.jpegHe plays, naked, upon the field

On a midsummer Sunday morning

the Christ-child, or child-man

Clothed in the warbled hymns and tears of His people

In gratitude.

He dwells at home with beat of butterfly wing and wind of bird

Races the doe and buck and fawn,

Carousing with Fox and Coyote, past placid cows who long have known His name.

 

He revels in the dirt-mystery of the world He made

Bathing in the stream that can still be found flowing over, around and through the hues of stained glass window and worn pew

And He lets me see him there


Gratitude. And Holiness

September 7, 2017

In a couple of weeks Henry and I are attending a Hanson concert in Birmingham. If you don’t know me that well, or you were born after 1989, you’ll be like, “Great, who’s that?” If you read what I wrote last year, you’ll get it.

Can I tell you a secret? I’m terrified of going to this concert. It’s like a car wreck. I am like a car wreck.

I STILL care a lot (too much?) about this band and this music. I keep thinking I have to get out from under it somehow but it hasn’t changed in 20 years. Not really.

It’s the typical story of an idol in many ways. When I was younger, I thought I could work hard enough to make myself an equal with these guys: musically, or in fame, or with my personal beauty, or even in my own character. The older I get, the further away from my reach all of those things seem to be – especially the last. I don’t feel like I’ve risen above a damn thing.

I often have to ask, why did Jesus want me to go on this journey? I felt a huge initial relief when I figured out what had been going on all those years. But it’s not like I’m immune to jealousy and vanity. Quite the opposite. I see more clearly the real power they have over me.

If there ever was a time when I felt less as though I was “born to do something no one’s ever done” I don’t remember it. I often feel as though motherhood has stripped me of everything that made me myself. There is no book that can tell you how limiting and, frankly, sad it can feel to be spending your youth for the good of other people. Even if you chose it. It’s a grief I have yet to figure out how to get through.

What it also is, still, is a lack of humility. Sally Clarkson, in her book “Desperate,” said something that cut me to the quick. She said, who am I to think that I’m too good to sacrifice my life for my children? Who am I to think my time is more important than theirs? The same goes for everyone else. Who am I to be bitter if I’m cooking while everyone else is resting, or having fun or playing music together? I’m not too good to serve people. I’m not too good give up my time, or my potential, for the good of someone else. I don’t know…that thought got in there this time I guess.

For that matter, who am I to begrudge the Hanson brothers their talent, luck, charisma, joy and personal beauty; Or, alas, the happenstance of being born male? Who says that me getting all those things would have been more fair? And yet…I still want to prove myself or wish there was some way I could. I still operate from the old model of self-righteousness.

The true model, of course, is upside-down from that. Whatever power, beauty and joy that I’ve assigned to the Hanson brothers is an atom in the universe that is God. But God gave it up. He didn’t come to earth, with all its vagaries, as even a beautiful man. He didn’t even allow Himself that comfort. He came as a homely, homeless wanderer. He often went hungry. He had all the nuisances of fame with none of its glory.

I can’t escape the fact that I have been baptized into a death like Christ’s, not a life of prestige and fame. But I can’t always make that track with why love for the beauty I see feels so good and right. There’s something I’m not understanding in moments like this.

The one thing I’m glad I did this year was to listen to Hanson, one album at a time, starting from where I left off. I heard them grow up, and get better, in fast forward. I found out first hand what I’d kept hearing as a rumor: “Hanson’s still around! They’re really good.” I discovered that I don’t like every single song they’ve ever released! And I’ve heard a few songs that made my jaw drop. How did people so young write such things?

For brief moments, I felt like I was actually in awe. I felt real, starry-eyed wonder. I can’t explain it other than to say it’s a little like watching your best friend give birth. Because they are my age, maybe, I can’t help but be flabbergasted sometimes. Are you guys really doing this? It’s not a stunt?

And then came the gratitude.

The gratitude: that’s been the only healing thing about this whole, silly, Hanson journey. The moments of light and wonder, wrested from so many years of miserable despair, are the real gift. They make me realize I’ve never been grateful before at all. It’s been the kind of feeling that leaves no room for anything else; no regret about my own failings, no envy that they have something I don’t, no embarrassment or shame that I like something so trivial so much.

I don’t feel it all the time. If I could, I’d be a much better person than I am now. If and when I can access that gratitude, it all feels worth it: all the embarrassment, self-pity, anger and pain. Because then, it’s bigger than me AND it’s bigger than Hanson. After all, who made them?

If I can lay hold of that gratitude, it all makes sense. Hanson is my proverbial flower. Their “beauty” is part of what they do and who they are. And it’s not FOR them, you know? That’s not how beauty works. The flower’s color is for the bee. The tree’s fruit is for the animals.

There’s no getting around it: it’s difficult to be confronted with a beauty, talent, will and passion bigger than one’s own. In some ways, I know I will struggle to enjoy myself at the concert and I will feel self-conscious. The comparison is not flattering to me. It’s why I’ve always had a hard time at concerts. (A true 4!!)

But gratitude changes that. Gratitude makes me happy just to be me and happy to be able to see them being them. So I hope against hope that I will come and go from that concert venue full of wonder and gratitude. If I can do that – even if sometimes I still get stuck feeling jealous or regretful – I will consider it a win.


Well, pride.

August 26, 2016

I’m racing to the basement computer immediately after listening to this to write something I think should follow my last post, which I hope showed, more than anything, the process of finding out the depth of pride in my own heart.

Lately I have been going back about 20 years to try to see more clearly a fundamental way I misunderstood the world that has carried forward to the present day. Well, and because in this season (the isolation of early motherhood and having recently moved to a new state) I find myself re-living a lot of the feelings of loneliness I had then. I also find myself STILL GOING BACK to the same thought patterns and fantasies of achieving my “dreams” and experiencing romance I did then and let me tell you: it’s not so cute or harmless as it seemed when I was 15.

So I pulled out my box of old journals and re-read a couple of them from 1997-98. I have had a few people cringe when I told them I did that. Not for me, but to imagine themselves doing it. Or maybe it was for me. Anyway, I wanted to see if I could tell what my life was actually like, since I described it in such glowing terms. I also thought it would be helpful to read the words I wrote about my internal state. To a great extent, as I wrote before, I had carried that self with me into my 34th year and only lately have started to tell the true story of my life.

I found a few things there and ALL of them had to do with pride. The last one I will mention is the most “current” and I want to make sure I talk about it. The first two, though, had to do with what was going on in my head all the time about myself and about God.

#1 – As I’ve written about extensively in my last post, I wanted with all my heart to be perfect and successful and as part of that, to gain the love of someone I saw as also perfect and successful. I consequently had a lot of negative feelings about myself because I didn’t have – and didn’t really believe that I would have – those things.

But concurrently, I discovered, I – really, truly, with all my heart – believed that if any boy (whom I deemed worthy) really got to know me, he would fall in love with me and that that process would finally make me feel fulfilled and happy. In addition to what was written about my obsession with Hanson (not much was written, but I am me, so I could read between the lines. It’s actually very touching how often I wrote down prayers for the Hanson brothers and their family), I was concerned with how much attention I was getting or not getting from a select few boys of my acquaintance in youth group. I think I’ve finally answered the burning question of my youth about why I didn’t receive much attention. It wasn’t because I wasn’t pretty enough or talented enough – as I feared. And it wasn’t – as I wanted to believe – that they were intimidated by me; at least not in a good way. They were not overawed by me. They were turned off by me because of my pride. I was simultaneously afraid of being embarrassed by saying or doing the wrong thing (ironically, it would often happen that the very moment I decided it was safe to tell a joke I would say something truly embarrassing and horrible) and too proud to value the attention and friendship I did have as it ought to have been valued. There were some wonderfully talented young men who liked me. Apparently, they  just weren’t good enough for me. Also, I had friends who were telling me the truth in love but I just couldn’t see it.

There was a terrific conversation with the afforementioned Mark Olson in there that I’d forgotten about completely. On a car ride he was asking me about why I didn’t date. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to date because my parents were sort of dabbling in the courtship movement. I know, because I remember my rebellious thoughts on the subject, that I was not into it. I was all for dating. But I sat there and argued courtship to Mark Olson like it was my personal holy grail rather than tell him ugly truth that I wasn’t dating because no one I liked had asked. Well, to my credit I did admit it at the very end. But only after I’d made it perfectly clear that I “didn’t want a boyfriend anyway” to the boy I’d been hoping would like me back, and ask me out, for years. I remember the utter elation and the abject fear that he might see and know I liked him. I panicked and reacted in pride. It was my default.

#2 – The other thing in there was so much talk to God about my own “worthlessness” and how I knew that I would just hate me if I was God and if He didn’t love me so much He would hate me. It almost doesn’t need to be fleshed out, but obviously, this isn’t the gospel. It’s also obvious that it was another reaction of pride. I wanted to earn my salvation, knew I couldn’t, and was in prideful despair over it all the time. And I was the one responsible for thinking this. I have liked, in the past, to think that my church did it, or my parents did it. I may have been mislead by some things but ultimately…

#3 – Here’s the main thing I wanted to say. When I described my life outside my own mind as harsh, dark, sad and silent I knew I was not being accurate so much as trying to reflect my memory of how life felt. What I forgot was that I was taken to piano and voice lessons in addition to youth group and church every week, that I had a job at the gym where my sister practiced competitive gymnastics and that I did several other fun trips and classes throughout the year. That I, to this day, couldn’t even remember those things says a lot about me. In my own healing journey, I have both blamed my parents for things out of their control and rightly seen things they did that were wrong and hurt me. It’s so easy, once you see more clearly what you needed and didn’t get, to stop there. But you will never be healed, not really, until you are healed of your pride. Here’s what I have failed to see in the past: it’s important to have nurturing parents (and don’t think that I’m trying to say I didn’t. I did.) but I didn’t deserve nurturing parents. This one is really hard, I know that. We’ve all been hurt by our parents. My own parents were hurt terribly by theirs. But it’s never been more clear to me: If I can’t see what they did give, and do give, as a gift I will never experience joy. And I won’t be able to see anything as a gift if I believe to my core that I shouldn’t have to experience pain and suffering,  that I deserve anything other than the judgement that was taken for me by Christ. 

In other words, I made an idolatry of pride itself. It didn’t, it couldn’t, result in feelings of superiority because I knew that I had failed to gain the attention of a “worthy” boy, I had failed to hone my musical skill and become famous like the Hanson brothers and I had failed to live up to my internal religious standards. An overblown ego doesn’t look the way I always thought it should. It actually looks like the kind of blindness, excessive whining, blaming of other people (like my parents) and depression I saw in my old journal and see in my behavior every day.

I’ve often heard, and rejected, the idea that depression and pride go hand in hand, but there it is. It’s plain to see.

My mom came and visited us recently. I posted something on Facebook about it and you know how I knew something was different with me? I don’t know if I’ve really done that before. I didn’t just know I should be grateful for her love and help and I didn’t just feel good about it for a little bit; I felt filled up with gratitude. For my mom. As a person. And, as great as she is, it’s not because she’s gotten so much better at being helpful. It’s that I hadn’t been able to see it. The problem truly had been with me. It doesn’t mean we don’t or haven’t hurt each other. It means, in the only way that truly matters, we are both off the hook. And that makes us free to accept what the other has to give. So many times in the past I have looked at the exact – or near enough – offering she’s given and said it wasn’t enough. By the grace of God (I hope, in removing some foundational layer of my pride), I could take the exact same amount and be filled to overflowing by it. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.


Where Else Can I Go? (A Story About Hanson. But Ultimately Jesus.)

July 30, 2016

It’s Summer, 1997. I am 15 years old. For a summer job, I am babysitting for four children, ages 9, 6, 6 and 2. All day five days a week. I have successfully negotiated for one dollar per kid per hour.

So…four dollars an hour.

I am excited about this job because it allows me to leave the house, which doesn’t happen much unless I ride my bike around the empty country blocks. I have exactly two chances to see people other than my family every week – both at church. I listen to whatever music my mom listens to in the public space of our home and I have just been allowed to own a walkman in order to do personal listening, as long as I only do it while I ride my bike. I listen to Rebecca St. James and DC Talk’s “Free At Last.” I ride my bike, I jump on our trampoline and I obsess over how badly I think my lanky, well-proportioned body looks in swimsuits and shorts. I eat as few grams of fat as possible each day, mostly bread and twizzzlers, and a sensible dinner. I have flirted with an eating disorder, had a long-standing crush on Mark Olson – the most ripped man I’ve ever personally known – and been “on tour” to several Christian camps with our church teen choir. The established facts about me are that a) I have a full and precocious singing voice, b) I am not one of the popular kids and c) only the geeky boys will ever be interested in me. Plus d) that I have already blown my shot at olympic glory by not becoming an ice skater or a gymnast. My best friend is Bethany, full of grace and truth and not too prone to silly teenaged fantasies.

At the house where I babysit I have discovered that there is cable TV – something we have had at home only once or twice for a month. This means I can, and do, watch music videos with the kids. Music video watching is a guilty pleasure of my mother’s who, God help her, has had to do all of her pitiful guilty pleasuring in front of us for as long as we’ve been alive. She has, in the past, had a lunch-hour music video habit, which we shared until the cable got shut off. There were one or two videos she had to turn off because of sex but then she would turn it back on once she thought the video would be over. We’d sit there for the three minutes in communal silence, pretending we weren’t imagining the sexy video happening behind the blank screen. But this phase has passed. There has been no afternoon delight for some time. So, babysitting.

I am doing a little mid-day viewing with the elementary kids when it happens: the electric guitar arpeggio starts up – the one I still can’t hear in my mind’s ear without a twinge of pleasure, sadness and embarrassment – and I think, “this is that new song. I think I heard this in the car.” The camera cuts to a young blonde woman singing and playing the keyboard. I can’t understand what she’s saying. But wait. That’s not a woman.

Hanson_9494

Let’s just remind ourselves, shall we?

It’s a flash of lightning to my gut, mortifying damage done the instant I realize what I’m seeing. (For years I would wonder why these boys, why this year of my life? Why? I felt like I’d fallen down and was looking at the world from a prone position; everything tilted sideways.  Their very presence in the world was a torment.) They’re beautiful. teenaged. boys. They are on the television. They have a record deal. They are famous for something I thought I was good at. I feel silly for thinking he was a woman. I feel silly for thinking I was a musician.

Within a day or so I know their names and their ages and some random facts. Thanks pop-up video.Isaac.Taylor. Zac. I will not be able to have a whiff of a crush on anyone else for years (and years, and years) without comparing him, just a little, to Taylor Hanson. I have a secondary crush on Isaac. Zac is 11. They are brothers. Home-schooled. From Oklahoma. I can feel the feels thick in that room containing four girls, ages 15, 9, 6 and 2. We don’t say a word about it, but I can tell we’re all in just about the same boat.

I’d like to say the rest is history.

I asked my mom to take me to Walmart and I bought “Middle of Nowhere.” All Summer long that album played in my head when not – to my constant mortification – in our living room. I snuck upstairs to the radio in my parents’ room every night at 9:30 for weeks to listen to the “top 9 at 9” on U93 because I knew it would be number 1. People started to talk about it for being so ubiquitous. I had several opportunities to pronounce, with admirable calmness of manner, that I liked the song and thought these three nice young men were very talented.

I couldn’t quite pretend to my family as I did to everyone else around me that nothing had happened, but I didn’t really talk about it with them. I did notice, however, a remarkable uptick in the amount of hawkish watching that was done of me by my mother. She’d been watchful since the Jonathan Brandis era. For several months while we lived at my grandparents’ house, I’d faithfully taped Sea Quest if we were away from home the night it aired. I had a sci-fi buddy in my dad. He was my screen. At all costs, I must hide how badly I wanted and needed to see his face every once in a while. Jonathan Brandis. Not my dad. The voyeuristic fruits of teenaged girldome – Tiger Beat and its ilk – were forbidden to me as much by my own refusal to stoop to that level as by my mother’s disapproval. She was the one who’d read an article about him in line at the Walmart, not I. Not in a million years. Not though everything in me screamed to pick up the magazine and devour that article. In those days I had been half-awake at all times, only living in my body as much as I couldn’t help it and in every other waking moment striving to make his presence in my fantasy as real as possible. I wanted to recount his features and their expressions in vivid detail. The world my body occupied was grey, harsh, dark, sad and silent. With Lucas, I could be loved and I could do something great. In the future, under the sea, anything was possible. By Summer of 1997, however, Jonathan Brandis had been upstaged by Christian Bale, Kerri Strug (non-romantically), Mark Olson and Christian Bale again – in that order.

Though I imagined the disapproval radiating off of her, I wanted the album too badly to forego it. I had birthday money. She gave one last-ditch effort: I thought you wanted Blues Traveler. I know, I said, but I thought about it and I really like this music better. I really like it a lot. The years of my supposed fandom after that are very hazy. I had no way, would take no way, of knowing if or where the band was on tour or if or when they would be appearing on TV. One time, when my dad was testing out the modem in his new laptop in our kitchen phone jack, I asked him to type in the “web address” I found in the liner notes from “Middle of Nowhere.” Hanson.net. I looked for a few minutes.

I would sometimes read things by accident in the modest publications lying around our house: Taylor and Isaac’s birthdays – which I have forgotten. I saw an appearance on Rosie O’Donnell by accident. Another accidental viewing when they appeared on Saturday Night Live. I would steadfastly avoid looking at the hundreds of magazine covers and t-shirts bearing their images when I was taken along to the store or the mall. How could these girls be so brazen, I thought. I would never make myself look so foolish. At home, I would read the song lyrics and try to avoid looking at Taylor’s face.

And after all this time, this is the part of the memory which can bring me to tears. They are tears of pity for my sad, lonely little self so consumed with a huge, inarticulate desire embodied by two (and a half, sorry Zac) teenaged boys that I couldn’t name and couldn’t dislodge from a place in my chest  – which I both wanted with all my might and wanted desperately to be rid of. That I would, in the privacy of my own bedroom, have to hide from myself such that I couldn’t even look at a picture of Taylor Hanson straight on. And to top it off, they were real musicians – at their ages – and I was…just a high-school girl who got the solo in church choir.

And, I don’t have to tell you but I will: Oh the fantasies. If only I had worked harder, had gotten better at piano, had been more driven, could somehow gain their attention in an unusual way. I was home-schooled too…maybe there was a way to work that angle. Could I be discovered, somehow, by Hanson at some sort of national homeschool event? Do those exist? I made them all dance to my bidding in my mind. Such empty work.

So when, a few years later, I came home from camp and threw it away, that was all I knew how to do. And it took a whole contingent of my friends throwing away all of their secular CD’s and me throwing away all of my other CD’s at camp to finally get rid of this one, which was the only one making my life miserable.  I hadn’t even been able to bring it to camp.

Almost 20 years later and it finally came to me that Jesus has been there in my head wanting to talk to me about Hanson. He’s been trying to give me permission to be a fangirl. “So, you didn’t think you could be silly back then. You couldn’t accept you’d have crushes on boys. Let me be a fangirl too. I’ll watch the videos and giggle at the jokes and be filled with nervous joy next to you. Let’s just face facts: boys are super cute. It’s really going to be okay. You can be stupid about it and I won’t judge you. In fact, I’m pretty into it too.” Somehow, imagining Jesus as a teenybopper made something deep inside me unclench. So I watched a bunch of Hanson things on Youtube. Starting with the music videos from the 90’s that I never let myself watch. So. Cathartic.

And here’s what I know so far:

  1. I was a total, fucking, neurotic, prideful snob.

It’s actually endearing that they all married girls they met at their shows. I had, at 15, just assumed they were too cool to be interested in a girl who would go to one of their concerts. I was trying to be a Hanson fan without associating myself with Hanson fandom.

Nope. Gah! That’s not even true.

2. I didn’t even want to be a fan!

I wanted THEM to be MY fan! I was deluding myself into thinking that I wasn’t like all the other girls, in my heart. In my heart was where I was exactly like all the other girls. It was only in my behavior that I wasn’t. Actually, I was way worse.

In one interview Taylor tells a story – maybe 10 or 15 years after the fact – about rolling into a parking garage late at night that they’d blocked off so the band and crew could unload efficiently. A few girls got the intel and snuck in to the garage before they closed it, hiding under cars until the band arrived. They expected, according to Taylor, to jump out in their cute outfits and be folded into his arms but forgot they’d slept under a car and were covered in grease. I think he was recounting it as a funny story and not trying to make fun, but he just seemed a little disdainful. I can imagine this kind of thing would get old after a while, so at first I missed the point. I felt disdainful too. I would never have done, never would do, something like that.

Are you noticing it though?

Those girls who hid were at least being honest with themselves. They knew, in a way, how needy they were; that they weren’t going to get the guys’ attention any other way. That behavior – directed toward Taylor or Isaac or Zac Hanson – might be idolatrous but that’s not why it made me recoil. It made me recoil because it looked pathetic. I believe that I have not asked to be loved on anything other than my own merit.

My refusal to be a fangirl is not virtue. It’s pride.

I was right to throw away that CD in high school. I couldn’t see any other way to get free. It felt like a presence had left my life after I did. I’m not sorry. But I am sorry, now, that I’ve missed out on so much in life because I mistake pride for embarrassment or virtue.

So, back to Jesus. “Look,” He said, “imagine there’s Taylor Hanson in the parking garage and you are there, covered in oil. No…actually, you’re at home refusing to look at his picture. But he shows up at your house, says ‘hey we’re in town. We’re playing tonight and I want you to come.’ He shows you his backstage passes. ‘Actually, here’s the deal: I don’t just want you to come see us play, I want you to sing with us. On tour. Join the band. I’ve heard your voice and it’s really beautiful. And yes, I know you are kind of in love with me. And I want to tell you…I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. I want to marry you. I want you to be part of my family.’

“You’ll just have to take my word for it if you won’t believe it,” says Jesus, “but I think you will now: What I’m telling you is that you wouldn’t go. You’d persist in disbelieving it was for real – even when shown the proof – and then even if you did join, sooner or later you’d resent him. You’d blame him for tricking you into marrying him and making you be in his band, for curtailing your freedom. Whether or not you’d actually act on it, you’d want to be free from his love, free from the thing you were convinced was the only thing that could make you happy.”

And I do see it now. Holy fuck. He’s right. I can think of the many small times I’ve done this to my (dear, sweet) husband. My basic orientation to reality is that I will have it on my own terms or not at all. And those terms are subject to change whenever the hell I say they are. That I’ve never really gotten the things I thought I wanted with my whole being is beside the point. Everything I ever thought was the entire point is…worthless.

something in me is broken.

I have had, over and over again, something akin to that moment of sublime connection for which I longed then and thought Taylor Hanson and only Taylor Hanson could supply. (I might have accepted Mark Olson or Christian Bale in a pinch) I had one a few weeks ago. It filled me to overflow. So exquisite was it, I felt it would ruin me. In my moment alone with Jesus, I could barely breathe or glance up into His face; there was so much…so much…there aren’t even words for it. In moments like this when I can remember how it was, even the memory of it is…Life itself. Like standing next to the sun and not burning. I can’t explain it. And I’ve been told, and shown, over and over again HOW I am loved. The depth to which I am loved, a language is spoken to me which I thought I had made up but it’s spoken better, more fluently. I have been wooed and wooed.

And I forget.

No. Be honest Jenn.

I don’t just forget. I feel those things and know them to be real and then I turn around and I HATE the bestower. I hate him when he gently suggests that I am his. I am fully loved by him, fully known, deeply wanted. And I hate him. The problem is me.

“They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”

Some of this isn’t going to get healed this side of heaven. It’s written right into the man/woman curse that lives in my bones. I like to hope that one day, in the new earth, Taylor and Isaac and Zac will be there and somehow Jesus will have made it okay enough to say all of it – all of the things ever – and they would get it. Or that none of us has to say anything because there would be a wholeness that is, as things are now, totally elusive. Not even able to be imagined by me.

I like to hope  – and as I hope, hope it’s not wrong to hope – that I will see in the new heaven and earth all of the men I’ve ever idolized. I hope they’ll all be there. I hope they choose Jesus for so many reasons I don’t have time to write about now. I pray for that so hard. And I pray for their wives and families. But I hope one day I will see them as they are, not as I have imposed upon them. I hope I can talk to them without fear and without a trace of the pride and self-loathing that has characterized my life. It’s always this hope that supersedes everything else, that shocks me out of my own daydreams with a new kind of lightning strike: Maybe someday this, too, can be made new. Not denied or erased, but made clean. Set in order. Beautified in Christ and able to be enjoyed without pain or regret. Yes, My soul says. Somehow, that’s the answer. I don’t know how, but I know that if the longing is there, it’s meant to be fulfilled.

“The reason we want to live forever is that WE WERE MADE TO.” 

“Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I’m just going to add as a postlude here that these guys are really good. Henry thinks I should be sent to a Hanson concert some day. We’ll see. But damn.


Being a mother is hard. Some thoughts on kids and judgment.

July 13, 2015

I don’t have a lot of time this morning. In fact, I’m squandering precious moments of Gwillis nap time and allowing the boys extra PBS time in order to write it. I felt compelled, and so I’m hoping this is meant for someone out there.

Did ya’ll read this article by Jen Hatmaker?

It was hilarious. So go read it if you haven’t. I actually don’t read her regularly, but she’s hitting on something that is dawning on me and which I devote (probably way more than necessary) time thinking about lately. Motherhood, right now at this moment in time, is spectacularly hard. Not because kids are different than they used to be – at least if that’s true it’s not what I’m talking about – but because the world is a way, way different place than it used to be.

There doesn’t seem to be any place where we can experience rest from the duties of being present with or watching or providing something for our kids. Not the park! Unless you are there by yourself and you are reasonably sure your kids won’t run into the street (heaven help you if you have to use the bathroom and you have two boys on opposite sides of the playground who are too busy playing to hear you, let alone willing to come with you. And then you just decide to go anyway and hope no one dies and then when you come out, one of them is nowhere to be seen and his bike is lying on its side by the road. Not that this happened to me or anything. [don’t worry, he was just playing in ditch water]). If someone else is there, it’s generally frowned-upon for you, as a mom, to sit in the shade and just watch or intermittently read a book or write in your journal. You may NOT allow the children to work out their own issues with sharing because there’s no consensus anymore in parenting. The park has become a battlefield of niceness. Underneath, we don’t all agree with each other but we don’t say it. We don’t ask where someone else is coming from. And we can’t be challenged in our beliefs because we’re all so afraid we’re wrong and that we’re failing.

And you can’t let your kids outside your house alone, to play in the yard or – un-heard-of now – tool around the neighborhood like we used to do. Not that I could, or would, let my 4 and 2 year old do this. But, honestly, when I was a kid in the mid 90’s, my 4 year old sister came with us (the 6 and 9 year old) to the corner store 3 blocks away to buy penny candy or to the park two blocks behind our house where our mom could not even see us. I often feel nostalgic for her era of motherhood that I won’t ever have. Seriously, what was she doing in glorious solitude while we fought over the tire swing at the park or scraped our knees when we rode bikes in the alley behind our house (my little sister no doubt behind me on my banana seat) without helmets? Probably folding laundry. *sigh*

My point is, if I did this, the neighbors would have something to say about it – and most likely to the police when they showed up instead of to me.

I started to write a paragraph about judging here. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing this sentiment most often directed at Christians by other Christians: “stop judging!” I don’t think it’s getting us anywhere. Obviously, we’re all still judging and feeling judged enough to provide fodder for the “stop judging” contingent.

I received prayer on Good Friday that has started me on a path to deeper healing (a deeper easing of depression and anxiety and more consistent joy) than I have ever experienced. The reason this prayer was so effective was in part because the person praying for me has thrown off the false definition of “don’t judge.” This, I have observed, has come to mean a very dangerous kind of moral relativism. It has come to mean “what’s right for me might not be right for you so you can’t evaluate me based on your own code of ethics and better just leave me alone to relate to others who believe exactly the same way I do.” This is NOT what Jesus did. He surrounded himself with moral screw-ups who KNEW they were in need of Him and He judged (and very harshly) the Pharisees: the moral teachers who had made their own code of ethics based on outward appearances. The ones who were trying to impose extra rules to make themselves feel morally superior. They had long since lost a sense of God’s real presence.

The person who prayed for me primarily AGREED with me that what I was sensing as a problem was a problem. She called my sin what it was, but in the next breath, she was able to offer healing, hope, wholeness. Not in herself, but through the work of Christ – His death for me. I had been to countless prayer ministers and well-meaning friends giving advice over the years and their message was always the same: “don’t be so hard on yourself.” This is too hard to unpack in a blog post, and there’s a lot more to it that I’d love to write about later, but I think what I needed is not different from what everyone needs and what’s behind a lot of the angst we all feel as mothers. Jesus did this regularly. He didn’t tell the woman at the well (a marginalized person, living for her own passions and yet searching for something more) “you are probably being too hard on yourself. You need to learn to love yourself more.” He named her secret sin, he offered her Himself (living water! You will never be thirsty again!). And she was changed.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this issue: we mothers (especially those who desire to raise our children without the interference of the state and without exposure to the messages of the world until they have sufficient wisdom to judge wisely) live in a very different kind of world than our mothers. More is demanded of us. We will have to pray for the patience and endurance to be present with our children so much more often. Is not Christ present with us at all times? Should we look for a better model of parenthood than God? We will have to pray for, and practice grace and patience with other mothers who have different values than we at the park. We have to pray for grace for a populace increasingly un-used-to families with more than one or two children and therefore often saying awkward or hurtful things without knowing it. We will have to find new ways to live as Christians, raising our children first as citizens of the kingdom of God, in this world and stop yearning for a time that is gone. At least, I know I do!

Secondly, we need to pray for the discernment to stand for what we know is right when the time is right (Not on Facebook, for the love of God!) but to have grace and openness to the people around us. Yes, even those of us who are introverts and are desperately tired from always caring for our children. Christianity is a white-knuckled clinging to this incarnational reality: Christ is with us and IN us. We judge precisely because we DON’T have a hold on being good. Precisely because we know we are NOT good, and apart from Christ could not even wish to be loving to one another; because we know there is an objective, real reality outside of and above our selves. Some are longing for this knowledge and some can’t hear it at all. Our job of loving – and primarily of practicing the presence of Christ – is the same.