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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

on being late for school

So this morning went a bit like this:

We were all up extra-early to put finishing touches on Josiah's costume and makeup for his dress up party at school today.

I am almost always late when I have extra time.

We needed to stop at the gas station on the way there. My thinking was that we had been ready early several times in the last week, so no biggies.

I was so wrong. We always go slower in the mornings when it is cold. It is a fact of life.

There was also an accident and so there was extra traffic on the way.

All this led to picking up our carpool friends at the latest time ever. Which meant that we were the latest to school that we have been so far this year. On the drive to school, I found myself wanting to hurry and mentally berating myself... so here is a peek into my mental battle with feelings of failure.

Me: ahhhhhhh we are SO late!!! 

Also Me: well, are we actually LATE? 

Me: YES, we are SO late! This is so humiliating. I can not believe that NOT ONLY am I dropping off my OWN kids late I am also dropping off my friend's kids late too! (Insert shame emoji)

Also Me: Wouldn't LATE mean that you dropped the kids off AFTER the tardy bell rang? What exactly is your definition of "late"?

Me: "On time" is early. So "Late" is also "not early". I don't like arriving AFTER the school doors open, I LIKE to get there BEFORE they open. I like to wait for the doors to open for a couple of minutes. That is when I feel like I am "on time".

Also Me: Right, but at what point would you cease to be early and would actually be late? 

Me: I don't want to be one of the last to drop off my kids!! I'm not "that kind" of mom!!! 

Also Me: Sure, but there are all kinds of reasons for being a little bit later, like getting stuck in extra traffic. That doesn't make you a bad mom. There are no brownie points for being first in line. There's just bringing your kids to school and not bringing the kids to school; getting there before the tardy bell and getting there after the tardy bell. So it's really okay. You're a good mom if you just get your kids to school. Period. It's okay. There is no shame in being late now and then. 

Me: Easy to say, easy to say. That is NOT how I feel today.

Also Me: Remeber that book you read a couple of months ago, where she said that she REGULARLY fails. She knows it and she expects it and she said that if she is not failing 70% of the time then she is happy? Remember that? 

Me: Oh yeah, I remember that. And remember how when you told your friend about that book he said that All-Star Baseball players have a batting average of around 300 which means that THEY FAIL 70% of the time, and they are still considered SUPER successful.

Also Me: Right?! That was such a fun conversation. And the point of it all is that it is OKAY TO FAIL sometimes. If you consider "not early" as a failure, well then, okay. It's not the end of the world. Shame never solved a problem or made anybody a better person. You can get the babies in the van a little earlier tomorrow and try again. It's okay. 

Me: Okay, and also - isn't Josiah so cute today?

Also Me: So cute. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

one mom's response to #metoo

It seems like every week there is some new outrage plastered all over social media. One week it is one thing, the next thing it is something else. It feels like our world is on fire and not in a good way.

You might have seen the hashtag going around social media #metoo and #iam1in4. Women all over the internet are raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse, and it has blown my mind how many of my friends have been personally impacted by our culture of disrespect towards women. I am one of the lucky few who grew up surrounded by men who have been kind and respectful towards me - but that is not the case for most women.

I will never forget the day that my pediatrician asked me if I was talking to my daughter about "safe touch" she was only TWO YEARS OLD. I said that I was planning on talking to her about that as she got older. My child's doctor told me "you would be shocked at how many children, as young as three and four years old, that I have treated who have been sexually abused." That day changed my life.

The only answer that I have for all of this atrocity is the same answer that I have had for every social outrage: it matters how we raise the next generation. 

I am speaking primarily to moms, but if you don't have kids you are not out of dodge - your influence still matters - to your niece or nephew, your step-son or step-daughter, your friends' kids, or the kids at your church or in the clubs and classes where you may volunteer. These kids need us to be better about teaching respect, first by our example and then by our words.

What you do - how you talk and how you act and what attitudes you adopt towards yourself and other people matters. Especially when it comes to what we are teaching our kids.

This is not just a girl thing or a boy thing. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are the statistics for abuse. This is so unacceptable. We don't just need to teach our girls to be stronger or be louder or fight harder. We need to teach our girls and our boys to respect themselves and others. We must teach our children to respect others regardless of their gender, orientation, race, religion, socioeconomic status, physical/mental/social ability - all of it.

We need to teach our kids that no matter how much we agree with someone - even if they go to our church or are in our club and are our friend - when we see someone disrespecting someone else it is our job to speak up. We also need to teach our kids that when we disagree with someone, no matter how strongly we disagree with them, we always show them respect. It has never been more important to teach that then now.

We teach our kids to be respectful with their attitudes towards other people. We correct them when we see them imitating bad examples and we watch our own attitudes for how we need to do better.

We teach our kids to be respectful with their words. We use anatomically correct language at our house and I tell my boys that we talk about our private parts "like a scientist and not like a bully" because - good grief, especially here in the Deep South there is so much peer pressure to not use proper vocabulary.

We teach our kids to be respectful with their touch and to maintain their boundaries.  I was watching this video last week and I remembered how important it is to teach my kids about maintaining their boundaries, even with me. I need to be an example of showing them what a respectful relationship looks like. When they don't want a hug, I respect that. When they don't want to talk, I give them their space.

I am still super-aggressive when it comes to loving my kids. I sit there with them until they are ready to talk and I hug my teenagers even when they don't want to be hugged because they need to know that I love them even though we drive each other crazy. But I need to be a model of a loving, respectful relationship. If they don't learn it from their dad and me - where will they learn it?

We have the opportunity to create a mini-communities in our homes, and to teach our kids the way the world should be at least a little bit. A place where each person is respected and expected to show respect. A place where we practice love and forgiveness and compassion and safe boundaries.

As a mom, it often feels like what I am doing day in and day out doesn't matter. It isn't bringing in a paycheck or making headlines, and most of the things that I do in a typical week won't be remembered by my kids or even myself, it's a lot of the same things over and over. But these moments matter. We are influencing our kids one way or another - so what are we teaching them?

Are we teaching them that it is okay to disrespect someone else if they disagree with us about religion? Are we teaching the kids around us that it is okay to disrespect someone if they are on the other side of the aisle from us politically? Or on the other end of the spectrum from us economically? Is it okay to disrespect someone because we disagree with them on the hot-topic issues of our culture at the moment? Or because they have some sort of impairment? What does our example teach them?

Dear mama, daddy, aunt, uncle, grandparent, cousin, friend, pastor, teacher and volunteer - who you are around our kids matters. To everyone who is consciously making an effort to give the next generation a leg up on being people of love and justice - thank you. 

Now is the perfect moment to take another look at what we are teaching our kids, by our example and by our words. WE need to be having these conversations with each other right now, because who we are and what we are teaching the next generation matters. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

foggy morning in the valley

Someone on Instagram recently asked "what is your favorite way to spend the morning?" and one of the things that I wrote in my comments is that right now I love to see the sky as I drive over the highway on my way to pick up our carpool friends. It is different every day. 

This morning, the valley where I live is covered in thick fog. I could barely even see the Chick-fil-a, it was just a few lights in the distance. It really is beautiful though. I drove by the Christmas tree farm and yet again resisted the urge to pull over and take a picture, it is just so beautiful. But as I approach the big intersection near Wal-Mart I can barely even see across to the other side and suddenly the beautiful fog feels scary. 

That is what life feels like right now. I am editing my book and I'm at the point where I just want to send the whole thing through the shredder. Nearly every day I have thoughts about what a terrible job I have done of writing this book, that this project is self-indulgent at best. It's too shot and not good enough. I am at the intersection, and as much as I want to turn around I need to cross, even though I can't see clearly what is on the other side. 
On the other side of this particular physical intersection this morning, a little ways down the road, the fog lifts. It only hangs out around the fields near my son's school, the last remnants of the dairy farms that have turned suburbs. The fog kisses the tips of the trees, like the clouds are curious about what life is like down here.  

Sometimes it's foggy. It's a reality in the weather and it's a reality in life. Fog is beautiful until it is so thick you can barely see. In these moments all I know to do is slow down and trust that the reflective lines on the pavement will keep me headed in the right direction and take me to the other side. When I can't see clearly what is ahead, all I can do is slow down and trust. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

after the storm

A few weeks ago I shared this post with a few thoughts about when the rains turn into storms, inspired by weathering Hurricane Irma...  I had some more thoughts and finally today I finally got around to publishing them here. 

Today everything is pretty much back to normal. We never lost power during the storm, we didn't have any damage to our house or yard, not even stray branches to pick up or leaves to rake (the up-side of having a little backyard with no trees!!)

But this morning, on the way to pick up our carpool buddies, I drove past the hotel right off the interstate, the one that always fills up whenever there is an evacuation. I happened to glance over and I noticed that the parking lot was still nearly half-full and I thought about what that meant - all of the people who were still waiting for power to be restored to their homes - here in Georgia and also in Florida. Their lives are still, more or less, on pause while mine is returning to normal.

For me, this storm was a minor blip. A couple of extra days for my kids to be home from school. We even had a pretty great time together. While other moms were posting messages like "pass the wine" and "coffee coffee cofee coffee" I was honestly like "yeah, we could do another day" and even my kids, who usually cry when school is cancelled (yes, I have a couple of "those" kids) were saying "I want to stay home one more day!!"

For others though this storm was a major hit. Between this hurricane and the last one, there have been many lives lost, homes destroyed and for a lot of people life is not going to be "back to normal" for a very long time.

And in one way, I know how that feels. When I was walking through my own personal storm, when my husband walked away not just from our church but from the faith that had been the shared core of our entire relationship, there was instantly a rallying group of friends who walked with me through the initial hit. Eventually, their lives went back to normal, and they got busy with their own stress and drama. My life didn't go back to normal for a very very long time and that in between space - the space between when my grief was fresh and everyone knew about it, and when I was really okay again, that space was really lonely. I struggled to know to say "I'm still not okay. I know I'm standing here like a regular normal human being but my heart has been broken and I'm not okay yet."

If you feel like everyone has moved on,  if that is you today - I just want to stop and send a virtual hug through time and space to you right where you are, whatever is going on. I'm sorry that this is so hard. I'm sorry that you are struggling so much and for so long. I'm sorry that this storm knocked you down. I know what that feels like. It's okay if you are not okay yet. I promise, you are not going to feel like this forever. Things really are going to get better - a quarter of an inch at a time. One day, you are going to be so surprised by how good you feel, and by how long it's been since you felt like you were at the very end of the end of your rope. Things really are going to get better. I also want to say to you that there really are people who love you out there. They are just a few words away. It's okay to send a text or a message to say "I just wanted to let you know how I am really doing." It's okay to need to just hang out with your friends and not talk about anything important, and it's okay to say "I really need to talk about this some more" even if you feel like maybe they think you have talked this to death. Your friends or your family, or whoever your support system is, they are way cooler than your inner critic gives them credit for. And I know how hard it is to speak up. I also know it is really really worth it.

If you have a friend who has been going through something and it's been awhile since you asked her how she is doing - words can't even begin to describe how meaningful it is simply to have someone reach out and ask "so how have you been doing lately?" If you're thinking about someone right this minute stop and send her a note, just say "hi! I was thinking about you. How are you doing?" She may or may not respond as openly as you wanted her to, or she may pour out more than you were bargaining for, either way, I promise it means a lot to her that you cared about her enough to reach out. It means so much every single time someone tells me that they have been thinking about me or that they have been remembering to pray for our family. I don't tell everyone everything, and sometimes the question "how are you doing?" is hard to answer because it can change from minute to minute and from day to day... but I deeply appreciate every person who takes even a moment to remember to express how much they care.

I have been trying to do this more, to send the message to say "I'm praying for you." I'm learning to stop worrying about if I have "the right" words or if the time is off. If I am thinking about someone I send a quick note to let them know it. I try to send that card with the verse that reminded me of my friend or I send a quick text to just say "I'm thinking about you!" Not everyone replies to my texts with anything more than a smiley face, but sometimes that little note has meant a lot. So I keep on listening to that quiet little voice and I keep on sending little drops of light out to my people.

Sometimes we feel like we have been run over by life, and we are walking around like roadkill. I've written a book about my experience, these are my  "Confessions of a Roadkill Christian" and what I have learned along the way. If you'd like to get more information about my book as it becomes available please subscribe to my newsletter:

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

when it feels like it doesn't matter

I'm sitting in the darkness, at the end of another day. I turn the TV off and sit in the quiet. I think about tomorrow - how we're just going to do it all again I think about today. It feels like nothing that I did today mattered. I pray God, help me to understand the meaning of these ordinary days as I think through the things we did today.

It was a good day, but we didn't do anything significant. Ordered groceries again, watched a friend's kids for an hour or so. We practiced our shapes and writing letters. Nothing significant learned, no mountain-top moments. Just the splash of another penny in the pool. Today was just a penny of a day. Nothing much.

And in the quiet of the night, I think about my oldest Beth, who will be sixteen in a couple of months. When she arrives at her birthday she will have lived for 5,840 days. I tried to imagine what 5,840 pennies would look like.

And then I had this slow dawning realization about the value of the accumulation of all of these days. All of the ordinary days I have spent with her. Not all of them were great, but a lot of them were good.

I also thought of the blessing of the smallness of the impact of an ordinary day, when the ordinary day is ordinarily terrible. You know, the day when you're sick and you basically lay on the couch with the TV on and throw snacks at your kids. What a blessing that those days are just a penny off of the pile and not more. The blessing of the accumulation of small ordinary things.

The thing of it all is the accumulation of days. The accumulation of good days and bad days. One good day isn't going to fix the accumulation of years of neglect but one bad day doesn't wreck years of being a good mom. One bad day doesn't put us so far into the red that we'll never recoup. It's the accumulation of days.

I sometimes want my days to be hundred dollar days. I want them each to be snowflake-special with memories and impact and felt individual significance. And yet there is beauty in the accumulation of small ordinary moments.

I was looking at my son Eli this morning, noticing how tall he has grown. I thought when did he get so big?! And I realized he simply grew a fraction of an inch every day. He grew imperceptibly day by day by day until he could stand at the kitchen table on his long gangly legs and play on the iPad.

As I have been writing my book I have noticed this too - that it has been a lot of small moments that added up to writing a book, with very few "big moments" of writing or revelation. Just a few minutes here and there that added up to a project nearly finished. I have especially noticed how much I have grown as a person through the last couple of years and how that growth has happened a fraction of an inch at a time.

I don't know if maybe you feel like this sometimes too - like your days are all ordinary and insignificant and your growth is imperceptible at best, non-existent at worst. So I am just going to leave it here, (because I'm going to need to remind myself of this again before long) the small things matter. 

P.S. the picture above is from a weekend last fall - the weather here in the Deep South is still swelteringly hot. But it seemed like a calm and quiet, ordinary moment. 

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

when haven and hell are just inches apart


Grief is a funny thing. (Obviously, I don't mean ha-ha funny, I mean head-scratchingly befuddling) Sometimes I feel like, in our culture, we don't know how to grieve. Every September I end up colliding with the reality of this - my little brother Ian's birthday comes and goes and with it the pain of losing him at 16 to suicide. Then the very next day I celebrate the birth of my own oldest boy Josiah, who this year is turning 10 and he is the most excited about his birthday that he could possibly be. When Josiah was little, and the loss of my brother was fresh, this month I focused 100% of my attention on Josiah's birthday and Ian's birthday was just another day on the calendar, a day when I was busy getting ready to celebrate Josiah and not a sad day at all. But for the last couple of years, it has been hard. 

Yesterday I let myself get swept up in busyness, trying to outrun a killer headache and mental fog that was chasing me down. The grief was there, hiding around the corner, where it's been for the last couple of days, but all I did was sweep it under the rug (my default reaction to all unpleasant emotions) and now today I am dealing with the consequences of not having dealt with my emotions yesterday. Today sadness is here like the John Green quote "the thing about pain is that it demands to be felt" I avoided it yesterday but today it is demanding to be felt, refusing to be compliant and just go away. ugh.  All morning I've been remembering the words of that Rich Mullins song "our hell and our heaven only inches apart we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are." so true

Joy and grief are cohabitating in this month - but that's life, right? You don't have to live for very long to learn this lesson - that joy and grief, sorrow and celebration, they do not stay in their own tidy little separated boxes. We don't usually get to experience life one thing at a time. They are all mixed together, baked into a shepherds pie - beauty and blessing one minute, and the next (or in the same breath) brokenness and pain.

As I trudge through this day, a thought surprises me -  that joy and pain cohabitate in the little space of today, but there is a third thing wanting to be here too - God's presence. He wants to cohabitate with my sorrow. He cares that today is hard and wants to share this space with me.  It's hard for me to even begin to understand what that means - how to invite the Holy Spirit into my grief. It isn't something I necessarily have a vocabulary for.

I open my Bible and today's Psalm speaks hope:

"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!" Psalms 30:5,11-12

I hope that I'm learning a lesson - to face my sorrow on my brother's birthday and not wait until it flows over to the next day. I'm thankful that homeschooling is simple and that the weather is nice enough that we can spend a few minutes at the park. Today I'm leaning into the ministry of sunshine and music, and the joy of the sweet smiles of my little ones and the routine of an ordinary day.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

when the rain becomes a storm

I was sitting in car line this morning, waiting to drop my son off at school, listening to the song "There is a Cloud" by Elevation Worship. The lyrics of this song talk about a cloud "beginning to swell" with blessings about to break out - the presence of the Holy Spirit raining down.  As someone who just went through a period of a lot of rain both physically, in the form of Hurricane Irma, and also spiritually I have some thoughts about this.

I'm writing this on the first day back to school after Hurricane Irma swept through our town, felling branches and knocking out power in our area. This morning, all along the way to school, I witnessed the litter of this storm - twigs by the side of the road, an overabundance of leaves on the ground for September, a veritable shower of Pine needles and as I was driving this morning I had this thought:

what about when the blessings of rain become the storm of a hurricane?

I went through a two-year hurricane a few years ago and during this season of storms, nearly everything in my life was beaten down. My faith shuddered and the walls fell down leaving only a foundation, with only the most basic of beliefs, as God held onto me and I clung to my faith in the middle of the storm.

On the other side, as the clouds began to clear and the debris on my shoreline was revealed I was overcome with shame - I was such a disaster. Weren't "good Christians" supposed to weather storms with strength and an unshakable faith? My faith had been shaken and tested and a lot of my faith had fallen down. So what now? I felt like Christians looked down their nose at people who are genuinely and thoroughly struggling. I  had dropped their "right answers" and I questioned how to reconcile my pain with God's love.

I lived in the shame of that storm-wrecked beach for about a year. I thought I had failed - I had been tested and I had been found lacking. But then in one remarkable moment, God showed me a picture of my beach storm-wrecked and full of debris but then I saw the Holy Spirit cleaning up my mess. He was the one doing the heavy lifting - I was just there to help.  And this is what I discovered - God still loved me. He loved me as fiercely and as tenderly in the middle of my mess as He had in the middle of my religious pride  - He loved me. He had held onto me and carried me tenderly all along the way and now it wasn't up to me to clean myself up. All I had to do was cooperate - to let go of the junk that was cluttering up my beach and to be allowed to be redefined.

Over the last few years, this is exactly what God has been doing. He has been cleaning up my beach, He's been tearing down the old decayed buildings and clearing away the wreckage. Sometimes I'll pass by a spot that used to be standing and sometimes I think, for better or for worse, I'm not the same person anymore. I have changed a lot since then and the landscape of my faith has drastically changed.

I thought nothing good could ever possibly come out of that storm but from where I sit now - I can say that it has. The Holy Spirit was tearing down some things that needed to be torn down and He has been rebuilding some things that need to be built.  Now, all this time later I can say that that storm did me good. It was heartbreaking, but it did me good.

And now that I'm on the other side I want to stand up and say, for everyone who is going through a season of storms, and for anyone who is looking around their own storm-wrecked beach wondering how anything good could ever come out of the storm - yes it can. Something good can come out of this. Something beautiful. You just have to let it. Let the season of testing, of pain and sorrow, trial and suffering, produce something good in you. Try not to fight the pain - just because this hurts doesn't mean that it's bad. And hold onto the hope that God is working good out of this wreck.

I am here to say that through all of my failing and all of my faltering, through all of my flailing around and not believing God to carry me through this trial and storm, through all of my doubt that God could make something beautiful out of this - He loved me. He held onto me and He carried me through the storm and brought me safely to the other side. He cleaned up the mess and He built something new - something beautiful, something better.

Lately, I have noticed that I'm not the only one. I'm not the only person who has gone through really hard things, and I'm not the only one who has had my faith tested. In fact, this seems to be a fairly common thing that ordinary people go through. And so if that's you today - if you feel like your heart looks about like those storm-wrecked beaches of the Atlantic coastline - I want to say to you that God still loves you, and He is for you. Your mess does not separate you from the love of God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God and definitely definitely definitely not a season of struggle. Definitely not being a mess. Definitely not doubt, and definitely not wondering what in the world God is up to in this season of struggle.

So if that is you today, if you feel like you are indeed a storm-wrecked heart. This is what I think God would want to say to you: you are loved and you are not alone. Don't be afraid or ashamed. Come to God and let Him bring back order from your chaos. He will come and make all things new, come to Him in the middle of your mess. Come to Him with all your questions, all of your hurt and all of your aching and anger, and all of your longing and all of your confusion and all of your doubt. He is still here - He never left and through it all God loves you. Just wait, something really good just might come out of this.

And stay tuned because I have another blog post coming about some thoughts about going through a season of storms.

I wrote about my season of storm, and the shame I experienced in the aftermath - I'm calling it Confessions of a Roadkill Christian and it is launching in January. If you want to learn more about it click here.