May 31, 2013

No Struggle, No Strength

It's amazing how perspective can change. When I was a kid, summer was as close to nirvana as it got: no daily routine, staying up later, gorgeous weather, potential for things like swimming and vacation and popsicles. As an adult, my mind goes to one point and stays there: will we survive a summer with almost the whole family home all day, every day?

How will I navigate the summer's activities (how on earth does June fill up so fast?) and keep the kids busy enough not to kill each other? I recently thought of something I have read about butterflies. If you cut open a cocoon, thinking to spare the butterfly its struggle, you will actually make it impossible for the butterfly to fly. Breaking open the cocoon and using new-formed wings to push out of the casing are what get the wings strong enough to fly.

No struggle means no strength.

Example after example of this truth flooded my mind: I certainly don't expect to build healthy muscle without lifting some sort of weight; I don't acquire skill playing an instrument and understanding music without many hours of practice and study; I've only come to know my kids and predict their behaviors because I've spent many, many hours with them, learning who they are and how they think.

No strength without struggle.

As we head into summer, perhaps you, too, are facing a struggle (even if it's only a first-world problem, like mine). Today I'm trying to view the summer as training program for a marathon. Today I'm trying to think of how much stronger I might be by the time September rolls around.

Today I'm reminding myself that I want more strength, which means I will have more struggles.

May 29, 2013


I have a headache.

The sort of twinge that warns, "If you don't take migraine-grade meds NOW, I will grow in size until your eyeballs throb at the slightest exposure to light or quaver of sound."

I could come up with a whole list of reasons why I have it. I'm always good at coming up with reasons. Not enough caffeine, too much caffeine, not enough sleep, not drinking enough water, not eating wisely enough, not enough silence to decompress, avoiding household chores, feeling an energy crash post-heavy exposure to children's chattiness...

See? I told you I'm good at reasons.

Usually I want reasons so I can address them, make sure that this combination of circumstances never happens again to put me in a negative or less-than-good place. Reasons to help me believe I can control something I cannot.

My unwitting attempts to control happen a lot, too.

This reminds of God's words to Cain after the murder of Abel: "Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have mastery of you." It reminds me of God's consequence for Eve after eating the fruit: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

Both of these desires are not friendly, affectionate, cuddly sorts of things. They are desires for control, for things to go the way the desirer wants them to go.

My answer to my desires of this sort have to take a backwards approach. If I try to control my desires to control, I seem to make the problem worse, so... I'm trying to stop finding end-all-and-be-all solutions.

Which leaves me with... I have a headache.

Thinking of Chuck Swindoll's observation that life is 1% what happens to me and 99% how I respond to it, I shall take my headache, put away the mountains of clothing (clean AND folded, miraculously enough!) that occupy my bed, and maybe take a quick nap after that.

May 24, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

When my husband and I had children, we didn't just reproduce ourselves (boy and girl); we apparently cloned ourselves. Our son is my husband's exact personality; our daughter is my mini-me. There are wonderful aspects of this, since my husband can interpret for the boy and I can interpret for the girl.

The girl needs a lot of interpreting.

I am strong willed, and it's safe to say that none of it was diluted in the next generation. I watched her pull herself up into a sitting position on my lap when she was only six weeks old. She started walking around one year, and life got crazy. I didn't finish a single book for six weeks--and I read voraciously, as many as ten books a week. Her first sentence was, "I do it myself." She is rarely easy, laid-back, low-energy, or convenient. Heaven only knows what life will be like when this child can drive! I've lost count of how many times I have called my mom to thank her for letting me live.

Our girl isn't malevolent or even rebellious; she just needs to be convinced in her own mind that what you say is, in fact, true; she also will test to make sure YOU are as committed to what you're saying as you need to be. Her creativity will find loopholes you never knew existed, so that when it seems to YOU that she's disobeyed, she really just spotted a flaw in your logic. Giving her permission for a 2-block walk? She took a 4-block walk by herself, because I hadn't specifically said it had to be 2 blocks and no more. Her next walk was restricted to a one-block walk as part of her consequences--so she went around that one block three times.

Time and time again I marvel, wondering how parents who DON'T have a strong-willed mindset manage not to kill their strong-willed kids. Without knowing how she thinks, it would be easy for me to have thought she was deliberately defying me. Because my brain works the same way, I know her reasoning went the direction of, "I want a walk that's longer than this, but I can't cross any streets or go farther than one block. [Enter the creative problem-solving.] I know! I'll just go around the block multiple times. Everyone's happy!" Instead of snapping at her, I was able to calmly explain that going on a one-block walk meant going around that block one time. I fully expect that she'll experiment to see if there are any time restrictions on how long she takes to circle the one block, by the way. It just hasn't occurred to her yet. It will. She may also trying going around the one block backwards. Or blind-folded. Or on her hands and knees. Or without any clothing.

She goes big or she goes home. Every time up, she is fully committed to whatever her course of action is. It takes effort, energy, and argument to convince her, and you cannot get her to do anything without her agreement. Once she has chosen, though, an entire line of cannon wouldn't get her to recant. She is capable of standing solo against an army.

God created her like this for a reason. We may bear the brunt of bending this will now, but one of the worst things I could do to her is convince her that her creative problem-solving is wrong or that she's impossibly stubborn and won't ever get anything done. Her problem-solving abilities are ones that any number of corporations or creatives would kill to have. She doesn't think outside the box; she's never recognized that a box existed. Her strength of will may be what has her blow the whistle on her corporation someday. It may give her the courage to confront an authority figure with truth on the scale that the prophet Nathan did for King David of Israel.

This courage, this creativity, are absolutely worth fighting for, worth keeping.

Tonight before supper, my princess agreed with her daddy that she would finish all the food on her plate so that she could be the one to pray before the meal. I wondered about the wisdom of it at the time, but it matters to me that our kids have their own relationship with their dad, so said nothing. When supper ended, our girl wasn't nearly done. We had a quick parental confab in the bedroom, and I walked my best friend through how to fight this battle. No engagement, no comments (of the regular, pointed, "You need to finish your supper!" sort), and that we would both keep our distance. I knew at the beginning that bedtime (usually 7) would be off the table. We started supper a little before six, and it's now after 7:50. She's still sitting at the table.

These aren't an every day phenomenon anymore, but they do happen often. I know that if I stay at the table with her, my anger will rise. I know that the more angry and in-her-face I am, she will think the fight is against me instead of within herself. The best thing I can do is disengage: go to another room, find a chore to do, and move on with my life. I only know this because of how my brain works.

When she is done (which could take anywhere from 5 minutes more to another 2 hours; I'm prepared for the fight to go as late as 11), we'll get her into her pajamas, have her brush her teeth, and tuck her into bed. There's no punishment, no consequence, and no residual bitterness from us. Then we will both collapse into bed ourselves!

If you have a strong-willed child and are not one yourself, allow me to thank you. Know that many of the things that drive you insane from day to day are offshoots of the very traits that could allow your child to change the world--it certainly isn't going to force change on them!

Hang in there. The fight is worth it, I promise.

A Touch of Whimsy

A book I read this last week encouraged parents to find their children's passion and encourage them in expressing it. I have known for a long time that my daughter loves performance and creation of all kinds, and one afternoon I struck the mother lode: stories.

I have the portfolio edition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (author of Jumanji & The Polar Express books that inspired the movies). Each picture is thought-provoking in some way, and there's just a single line caption under each picture. While I rested one afternoon, I showed Zoe a picture and asked her to tell me the story. The plot has holes and the character development is nowhere, but oh, the creativity... It has already become a regular activity for us, whether there's a picture in front of us or not. She has made up stories about creature power suits (a la PBS's Wild Kratts), garbage cans, wandering Kodiak bears, missing harps, and (this morning) her watering can that's molded in the shape of a rubber duckie.

This morning's interest was heightened greatly: an older cousin is currently in art school and wants to be a children's book illustrator. When she heard that my girl loves to make up stories, S encouraged us to write some of them down and send them to her so she could do illustrations for them.

Story #1 has been sent off this morning (it was a mother-daughter collaboration); I feel confident that storytelling will remain in our family line for at least another generation.

Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck's Birthday (Title)
by Z Lightning & S Stanley

Once upon a time there was a watering can duck named Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck (his mistress insisted on giving him an absurdly long name; it's a wonder anyone ever remembered it!). Today was his 85th birthday. He was made of recycled plastic, which is why he was so new, but so old at the same time. He had four legs instead of two so he wouldn't tip over.

Z Lightning (his mistress) told Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck that it was almost time for his birthday. Then, he went to open his presents. Z Lightning gave him all his presents—and there were a lot! One was another watering can duck, a pretty one who looked like him. Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck decided to name it Blanket. The next present he opened was a cow watering can. “I'm sensing a theme to these presents,” he murmured. He decided to name the cow watering can The Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon. “That is a good name!” said the cow. The cow looked kind of like Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck because he was a floating cow like Big Duck was a floating duck. Two presents were left to open. One was a frog watering can. When the paper was torn from the last gift, there was a pig watering can! They were all watering cans! He named the frog watering can Picture and the pig watering can, he named T.V. Computer.

When Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck saw all of his presents, he wanted to see them water his garden for him while he played supervisor. His garden had tomatoes, carrots to crunch on, and (the shortest thing growing in the garden) a T.V. that showed up there by accident. He sometimes watched cartoons on it. His presents watered the garden, and when they were done, they went back into the house and went downstairs to play. All five watering cans flapped their wings to get downstairs—well, all except the frog, who jumped from puddle to puddle and stair to stair to reach the basement. Picture jumped SO high that his head hit the ceiling! But he didn't get hurt. No blood and no band-aids. The last time he jumped, he hit his head so hard that it hurt him enough to need a band-aid. Forgot the cake. They ate cake. The End

May 23, 2013

Finding Harmony

I've been trying to make harmonies most of my life.

My parents met while singing, and my mom in particular is able to fashion her own part, harmonizing with the melody, with no music in front of her. She knows enough music that she often can predict where the melody is headed, and she hears which intervals will work best with that melody. She's also strong enough to hold her own note in the midst of people singing something different. I inherited this ability from her (though it's a lot easier for me to do if I know the melody).

Though I started in vocal music as a soprano, I'm more of a second soprano to first alto now. I prefer harmonies. The melody is tied down, restricted in where it can go for the song to remain recognizable; the harmonies can go wherever they choose note-wise and rhythm-wise: they just need to complement the melody.

It's about more than music, though. I search out the harmonics in subjects. I can learn something, but I'd rather learn it from a new view or see it through a different lens. I want something that makes the knowledge deeper and richer. I want more rootlets tying new information into the body of existing things I already know. I look for parallels to join in and reinforce (or reinterpret) my knowledge.

Not all harmonies are comforting. Dissonance, one note jarring against another, creates a tension that can then be resolved. That tension heightens awareness of the notes, though. There can be greater relief when dissonance resolves into a placid third interval than if only a third was played from the beginning. Varied harmonies can showcase different perspectives of a note, different glances at the same piece of information.

I search for harmonies. When I see truth in nature, I look for a way that insight can help me understand God better--or my marriage, or my kids, or even how to cook a next entree! If there is misunderstanding, I like to find the common ground between warring parties, trying to help them understand each other's perspective. A melody is singular, but the harmony possibilities are endless.

Harmonizing takes practice (and that willingness to fail). Many of my harmonies are horrible; many of my attempts go nowhere.

I'm still compelled to keep looking.

May 22, 2013

Big Black Dog

The last few days have been glum ones for me, mood-wise. I don't know why. It may be sleep or not drinking enough water, or not enough sunshine or ebbing levels of I don't know what. Knowing a 'why' used to matter more to me, as if knowing the why would somehow allow me to prevent it happening again.

As someone who has had a years' long battle with low-grade depression, may I share something? I understand why my emotions and mind-set don't make sense to someone else. They don't usually make sense to me. My mind is often filled with a litany of reasons why I shouldn't be sad or apathetic. All my reasons don't turn the gray into blue skies. If you know or love someone who has depression, please don't try to fix things. Telling me reasons why I shouldn't be depressed only echoes the voices in my head, usually pushing me further into the realm of "why can't I just get it together and quit being this way?"

"If you got out and exercised, you'd feel better."
I know this makes sense. Movement would help me feel purposeful, and exercise releases endorphins that elevate mood. For whatever reason, my body doesn't work this way. I push, nag, guilt, shame and even browbeat myself to be active--then don't feel better afterwards. I'm only aware of the fact that I DID get myself to do something, so why have I been so lazy up to that point?

"If you'd just do something, no matter how small, you'd feel better."
Again, this makes logical sense to me. I could point to that chore, even if it's only changing the toilet paper roll, and know that I DID do something. It doesn't play out that way for me. I do whatever mental scolding is necessary to accomplish the task, then A-feel shame that I haven't done more up to this point, since I obviously am capable of getting SOMETHING done and B-I fight internal critiques of how I should have done my little chore differently or better or more or sooner or anything other than how I did it. Is it any wonder that I'm not eager to bully myself into a more intense mental battle?

I know a thing or two about handling my black dog of depression now. I don't do well to engage it; I am not strong enough or canny enough to take it down with reason or logic and make it go away. It only seems to grow bigger with attention. I cannot ignore it or deny its existence; it seeps into my life in little ways and shows me up for a liar. My best option right now is distraction. If I am called to do other chores and don't have the time to think about what I feel or why, I don't have the luxury of internal critique. This morning my mood dissipated a little in the melee of clothing, breakfast, morning chores, and maintenance tasks. If chores aren't demanding attention, I seek out sensory things: playing piano, taking a shower, gardening outside, time snuggling with a kid or our very real black dog. (I smile at the irony of my physical black dog standing between me and my figurative black dog of depression.)

If you know someone with depression, please respect that they know themselves better than you do. Be aware that they have spent far more time calculating viable solutions to their problem than you possibly could--they live with the problem every hour of every day. Ask them what sorts of things work to distract or encourage them, or even ask what things make it worse so you can avoid those. Encourage when you can, but focus on simply being present.

May 20, 2013

Undesired Gift

There are gifts you are given that come with no receipt, that cannot be returned for a refund or store credit, no matter how inconvenient or improbable they are. Some days I feel this way about parenting in general, but today it's about something more specific.

I have loved learning my whole life. I learned to read on my own at four, then devoured Nancy Drew mysteries in 1st grade and Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo in 5th grade. Though there were challenging moments for me in school, very few of them were academic. I was in college before I learned how hard it could be to learn. I did fine and got my degree in a challenging major, then entered the corporate world.

My husband grew up similarly. He was speaking in complete sentences by age 18 months and reading before school. He loved detail and rules, Legos and learning. His college/post-college path has had math, philosophy, flying lessons, seminary, and trade work.

With all of this, it doesn't surprise me that our kids both love learning--and reading, too. The so-called gift I want to return this morning is just how good they are at learning.

Before going farther, allow me a disclaimer: families struggle through each day for their children. Some families have incredibly heavy loads to bear due to their child/children's health, mental, emotional, or developmental needs. Usually when I hear a conversation about a 'gifted' child, it is perceived as that parent "complaining" (bragging, really) about how talented little June is and how hard it is to keep up with her. Every other parent in the group tends to feel defensive about their child and want to know where the 'gifted' child (or that child's parent) is lacking. This makes it incredibly hard for a parent of an irregularly intellected kid to communicate their own fears and concerns, to have someone hear how truly terrified they are by their child. I believe every child has a gift that is their own and a passion that only they will express in a particular way. I do not believe every child scores in the 1 out of 1,000 ranking on a test. It's mathematically impossible.

There are times I am scared of my kids. It isn't normal to find out by accident that your 4-yr-old can count by 5s--especially when you don't know where or how they learned it. It can be bone-chilling to have your 3-yr-old give you a run-down of some of Tchaikovsky's work when you didn't even know the child was listening to classical music. It is terrifying to hear your 6-yr-old teach a 3-yr-old sibling how to tessellate and what shapes work to tessellate--then have to go look the word up yourself to figure out what they're talking about so casually. (Tessellating is also known as 'tiling the plain' in mathematics. Shapes that can be laid next to each other without leaving 'gaps' in the tiling can be used for tessellating; squares and triangles work for this, but circles don't.)

How do you handle this as a parent? How do you balance ALL of your child's needs in light of something like this? If we insist on keeping them with age-related peers so they relate to them socially, is that good discipline for them or does it solidify a belief that school isn't where their learning happens? Are we enriching their lives or depriving them of... fill in the blank? Idyllic plans of using flash cards on items around the house to help my kids learn to read are long gone. Any teaching I do for them at home is more a case of trying to find a door for today's passion, then leave it open just a hair. They ignore it or break down the door to learn more. I never really know which it's going to be from one day to the next, but I better have a door ready all the same. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

It is definitely a gift, but still one that is tiring and terrifying at times; a gift I sometimes wish I could return.

May 18, 2013

Play Poem to Ponder

I love language, and I am drawn to those who love its slippery, sinuous beauty. Words are tricky things. Gregory Rabassa says that words acquire meanings as barnacles, each person associating cultural and personal experience to the meaning-weight of a word. There is a word's meaning, but there is also the inherent music of language. Long tones of vowel punctuated with bursts of consonants create a rhythm. Good story tellers know this. They write for the meaning, but they also write for how the words and phrases sound, how they taste when you say them, how much stretch they have for the emotion you bring to them.

As part of my lingual love, I write poetry. I didn't try to. Some days, I don't want to. I've never taken a poetry class and, for all I know, may do everything wrong.

When I write a poem, it's usually out of the overflow of an emotion or direction of thought. Once a week I have the bliss of several hours of solitude. Sometimes when that time goes well, I can respond in some way to what I've thought or written in my journal. More often than not, when the muses are kind, the response takes the form of blank verse (verse with no inherent rhyme or defined meter).

This last week I started my solitude mulling a phrase that occurred to me while listening to my children get lost in their play. "There is no idea in childhood but dreaming makes it so."

I liked the rhythm and consideration in it. In just a few minutes with a whiteboard, I mused some more on our loss of play as adults and what a fall I consider it to be:

There is no hope in childhood
but dreaming makes it so
Reality just a lean away
from dragon wonderlust
Grown ups learn to factor
      & figure
against the odds of ideal
In losing child-like thought
Enchantment's gates rust
And all-uncomprehending,
we beggar our trust

I leave it for you to ponder as well.

May 17, 2013

Against my Will

My children are awake shortly after 6:00 a.m. For the second day in a row. Within 5 minutes of rising from bed, their brains, tongues, and energy are operating at full speed. Mine are most definitely not. I will therefore conclude that rising early yesterday morning AND staying up late in pursuit of solitude was a spectacularly wrong choice.

Few are willing to discuss this topic. It causes much marital strife and can wreak havoc on parent/child relationships. I am referencing the early bird vs. night owl disparity. I married an early bird who is VERY early. My dad made a habit for years of being up at 5, and I was awed. I don't have a response for getting up at 4 or 4:30. On purpose. Consistently. I am of the belief that analog clocks only have 4's so we can see when it's 4 p.m.

In this season of life, I appear to be the sole night owl in the family. This is problematic. There are mornings such as today when I feel dragged into early bird-dom against my will. But when I consider that phrase, "against my will", I have to sigh.

My strong will has led me many places, but the best turns in my path have happened against or in spite of my will. I was bound and determined to be ONLY friends with my now-husband for six months after we met. I was sure we would have kids after at least 5 years of marriage, not just 3 like we had. I vowed I wouldn't move back home. and on and on and on. I am thankful and humbled by how much wealth and growth each of these has added to my life, and I wouldn't wish a single one done differently.

Perhaps the crux of this morning is realizing that choosing to believe Jesus is the son of God, choosing to act as if the gospel is true, means much of LIFE will now be against my will. My will prefers ease, convenience, what's familiar, predictable, and comfortable. I do not default to choices that require self-sacrifice. I do not easily choose another over myself--especially when my brain isn't fully awake and all filters are missing. (Do any other night owls spend much of their morning with their mouths clamped shut, Abba?)

Against my will can be the best thing that ever happened to me.

I'm willing for this morning to be an instance of that, but I still don't think early birds are God's gift or anything. (See? Still no filters.)

May 16, 2013


I love gardening. In our last house, I had several roses that I spent time with and made much of. When we bought this house, I had a curious (though compliant) one-year-old. By the time he was 3, I had a new baby. I've been able to have annuals or veggies here and there, but nothing too substantial. When I dream, it's of time and space (and budget) enough to have a true backyard (and front and side and window and indoor) garden.

Yesterday was part of a promise to myself. With small children in tow, I went to a local nursery. I bought their last climbing rose and some fiesta red impatiens, paid the asked for amount (remembered why not every one is willing to pay for roses; ay-yi-yi), and came home. Last night I got to have dirt therapy, for the first time in a LONG time. My rose is ensconced in the back yard, centered on a panel of the fence. As it grows, my aim is to train the canes to run along the fence. Beauty for metal, instead of ashes.

I held off for so long on getting even a single rose because I'd really like to be somewhere else. This is the longest I've lived anywhere since I was a kid, and I'm getting restless. The comparative life in our world goes down so easily: I'd like a house with this, I want a yard like X has, I'd prefer to live in such-and-such state or with view Y. It's rare to hear someone say they want what they already have.

When a gardener plans to transplant something, he/she hardens off the plant. They give it less water, dig up roots and surrounding dirt to ball it in burlap (for larger plants), and wait for it to be less dependent on its surroundings. I finally realized that NOT planting much here was my way of hardening myself off. See, God? No roots. Few attachments. I'm ready to go!

The truth is that no rose or lack of one will have more effect on "making" God do anything. I'm only depriving myself of the joy of gardening in the meantime--and I continue longer in the mistaken belief that my actions have any ability to compel the God of the universe into anything, as though I could back him into a corner. If a rose garden I love is here, the One who knows and loves me is perfectly capable of moving me wherever I need to be--and having a rose garden waiting for me when I get there.

I don't want my gardening to wait until some other place, so yesterday I bought a rose. I've already been out this morning to check on it, reminded of God's care of so many 'gardens' himself.

May 14, 2013

Ha. It's Already Done.

The morning of my wedding, I was awake at 4 a.m. Dreams were not friendly places, and I left bed and went downstairs. I wrote in my journal, and I ate. I had heard enough stories of brides who never got to eat on their wedding day, and I knew friends and family would be asking me, so I ate a bowl of cereal. Even wrote, "I've eaten, so leave me alone!" in the journal entry.

Welcome to the glorious brokenness that is me. Yes, I do right things with wrong motivation. All the time.

I'd like to think I've learned and grown some in the intervening decade or more, but some inner personality bents remain. In a season of life where chaos reigns and my time is more often someone else's rather than mine, I've been fighting for space to write. (My biggest fights, I readily admit, are with myself; writing is not convenient, it's not restful, and only rarely does it feel 'good' while in process or after it's done.) One practical line I could draw was to tell myself I couldn't check facebook before I wrote a blog post for the day.

I hate that I made this rule for myself.

My husband's in bed, my kids are asleep, and it's 'my' time to do restful things before calling it a night. Glancing at the clock, I saw it was after midnight. "If you write a blog post NOW," my creative inner child suggested, "you'd meet the requirement ahead of time. Tomorrow would be free!" (I don't know how my mother avoided strangling me in my younger years. Dealing with this mindset, a 'creativity' toward circumventing rules, is exhausting.)

At the heart of it all, it doesn't matter whether I write a blog entry that rivals a Shakespeare sonnet or a bunch of gibberish on a page. The point is that I believe God gave me a gift that expresses itself through words and phrases. I didn't like practicing for piano lessons all those years ago, and I don't like writing when I make myself write. The time now isn't about production, but about training and reliance. My hours at the piano mean I can close my eyes and still know where my hands are on the keys. Writing regularly means knowing my tools--words, spelling, verbal painting, listening to an inner song--so well that when something DOES need to be said through me... I'll be ready.

My blog entry for May 15th is done, yes; what matters more is I took time in this 24-hour block of time to work on learning my instrument. Perhaps in time my heart will even sing in tune.

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait 5 Minutes: It'll Change

Never has this adage about Midwestern weather been more appropriate.

Two weeks ago, there was snow coating my front lawn--SNOW. Today, less than 2 weeks later, we surpassed 100 degrees.

I may get whiplash.

There's a glimpse of God in this, though. One day my inner life feels freezing, every effort focused on trying not to snap my family members' heads off with my words. The next day (or two weeks later) I'm in a refining furnace as I deal with consequences of choices or just the circumstances of life. (An unforeseen accident that shattered my mate's rear windshield was on today's list.)

As each new fire or ice threat looms large, I get caught up in it. Sometimes I remember there's life beyond the struggle; sometimes I don't.

I wish I did a better job of remembering weather patterns. We had snow in May, sure, but usually the weather issue of the month is tornadoes. I've lived in the Midwest my entire life; I know when tornadoes could come, and I know what things signal their approach. I know what I can (and can't) do to brace for them. I don't worry that something I've done has somehow upset the balance of the summer and caused the tornado.

So why do I do that for spiritual things? Certain trials come because it's that season of life. Raising kids means a grad-level course in patience, mercy, wisdom, and self-control. Some trials come because of who I am (like tornadoes happening most often in Tornado Alley). The enemy of my soul knows where the chinks in my armor are; attacks via thought or perception often come in areas where I'm insecure.

Storms come and go; they rarely last for weeks. My days of faith and seasons of doubt will ebb and flow; the grace I possess in any and every situation will sometimes shine and sometimes fail. That's OK.

I want to remember that if I don't like my spiritual weather, I can wait 5 minutes; it'll change.

May 11, 2013


My husband knows, more than most, that being a mom is hard work. I could have fallen on the floor and kissed his feet the day he told me he realized that unless I had someone fill in for me during the minutes I had to myself (for a day out, weekend away, etc.), vacation time was not restful for me.

There are levels of awareness when it comes to understanding a full-on, no-limits role. I had no clue what being a full-time mom meant until I was one; they don't give you fine print until after you're on the front lines. It's jarring to realize just how much the role will ask of you. It will often feel like more than you have to give.

The man I married is fully aware of how much effort it can take to run errands with multiple active small children. He knows that preparing a meal and timing things isn't easy. The level he doesn't quite get is that every decision takes me that kind of calculation.

He loves to grill, and I love the smell of charcoal (something primal, there), so he prepped a meat dish for supper tonight. I crashed hard and was deeply asleep when he came to me ~15 minutes before our usual supper time to ask what else we could have to eat. He had mentioned running an errand in town with both kids, and it became apparent that it didn't happen while I was sleeping. As we talked further, the collision of everything (my brain ramping up, supper not decided let alone started, errand not run with husband remarking it would take at least half an hour, and usual kids' bedtimes fast approaching) meant I couldn't restrain the "how could you not understand this ahead of time?" expression on my face.

It's easy to forget how long it takes to learn certain things and learn what options just aren't there. Moms learn it in the trenches, and you don't understand the extent of it until you have to do it every day with no end date. If I don't have a supper plan by 5, my "fast" options are mac & cheese from a box (assuming I have all ingredients), reheated leftovers, or some quick-heat frozen food option. If frozen pizzas aren't in the house, I cannot get some from the store, preheat the oven, cook them, and be ready to eat at 6. It won't happen. If I have an errand to run with the kids and I only have 15 minutes, I'm going alone or I'm not going. Period. --And I only have two kids! I am certain these sorts of plans change drastically for more kids.

I never appreciated all my mom did until I was trying to do her job. John Piper said that motherhood is the big leagues of self-sacrifice, and it is. No personal boundary or preference gets to remain intact, no physical indignity is off the table. We're not saints, and yes, there are times we resent being needed, when we internally whimper, "Why do I have to be the go-to person on this?" So many, many moms follow that whimpered thought with getting up to go do it anyway, though. It's our job.

My mom has been my first teacher, cheerleader, confessor, solace, authority, entertainer, listener, friend, and confidante. The moms in our lives are often our first experience of the fierce tenderness that characterizes God. A line from the movie "The Crow" says that 'Mother' is the name for God on the lips of every child. On the eve of Mother's Day, now a mother myself, I am thankful. My mom did more than just accommodate me in her life, more than rearrange her world. I finally understand that she was willing to rewire her neural circuitry, to change the way she viewed everything and chose anything, for me. Because of her, I have been willing to do the same for my kids. Thank you, Mom.

Wrestling with Alienation

I woke this morning thinking of immigration. I don't remember how or why.

When I grew up my small hometown was a textbook example of homogenized culture. If there was an ethnicity other than northern European, it was likely the semester's transfer student.

Life here has changed, and I am thankful for that. I am glad that my kids can grow up hearing a different language than their own and learn about different cultures and families.

Integration, like any change, comes with a cost. It is common to hear frustration over change, especially if the speaker LIKED where they were and didn't see a need for change. There are many in my area who are conservative Christians. Many exchanges about the topic of immigration include Romans 13:1 – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. This verse is often cited in support of ejecting every immigrant who is here illegally back to their home country. I used to be more swayed by this argument than I am now. When I woke this morning, I was thinking of the reasons my thoughts have changed.
  1. All verses are to be taken in context. In Romans 13, Paul is writing to a house church of Christians in the city of Rome. He wrote to encourage them that in a godless setting like Rome, even the emperors sat on the throne by God's permission. Not all rulers are good. Paul does not tell the house church each rule given by the government is on a par with Scripture and should be obeyed and enforced as such. Roman law required prayer to the emperor as God. I cannot make myself believe Paul is saying to do this; he tells the church to recognize that they are subject to these authorities and to behave in a responsible manner toward those authorities.
  2. The words immediately before this are full of calls to sacrifice. Twenty-one verses contain phrases of (in the Message rendering), “practice playing second fiddle”, “don't quit in hard times”, “love from the center of who you are; don't fake it”, “don't hit back”, “discover beauty in everyone”, “don't insist on getting even”. The last two verses are this (in the NIV): “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” After challenging his readers for twenty verses to live a life of self-sacrifice and overcome evil with good, I cannot use Paul's words about authority (addressed to MY response to authority) as iron-clad reason for someone's else's position with authority to exempt my personal sacrifice.
  3. The parable of the tax collector and pharisee is notable to me because reading it is so likely to prompt the internal thought, “Thank you that I'm not like the Pharisee, God!” – which is EXACTLY the Pharisee's attitude toward the tax collector. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows me two examples of people who followed the law and failed, and someone who set aside what was expected to see the person in front of him. Jesus held up the Samaritan, not the priest or Levite, as the example of how to live. Using Romans 13:1 as the reason I don't have to pay a cost feels uncomfortably like following a law so I don't have to change.
  4. Romans 13:1 also needs to be held along the forty-seven verses from the Pentateuch alone using the word 'alien' that are commandments on how to live. (I didn't even look at the verses for 'aliens', 'alien's', 'stranger', 'foreigner', or 'neighbor'!) Laws are to be the same, whether for alien or native-born. Harvest gatherings are to be left on purpose for the alien. We are called to remember times in our own lives when we have been the stranger, the alien, and reach out to others. If I'm operating from a law standpoint, reading “[God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” in Deuteronomy packs a wallop of a punch. There's no qualification of the alien following all of God's law for Israel before God gives him food and clothing or shows him love. Why is it so easy to look past all of these verses to lean on the one that means I get to do nothing?
  5. The ultimate in selfish motive is revealed in me when my main reason (immigrants aren't obeying the law and shouldn't be here, so I don't have to sacrifice for them) is threatened. Immigration reform is gaining momentum. I am appalled by how many who claim to be in support of law fight SO hard to prevent the law being changed. The arguments are there (loss of jobs, increase in benefits cost, no room/resources for more), but the core issue is all the same: Because I don't want to give up something that's been mine for someone else.
There are other things I've learned (being here illegally is the same class of violation as speeding while driving, which I do so often; realizing I've never asked an immigrant if they're here legally or not before I wrestle with how to respond; being a mom and asking how I'd feel to be taken from my children because I was 10 when I came to the country but they were born here). There is a wealth of national history on this issue. There was a political party oriented around not wanting to ask about immigration status. Asian nationals were barred from entering the U.S. at all for decades. African-Americans had to register, be subject to whites in degrading ways, and were considered by someone as revered as Thomas Jefferson to be less than human. Irish and Italians were considered the dregs of society in the early 1900s. Eastern Europeans were shunned in the 1910s and 1920s as being "less-thans". Civil rights in the 1960s was another years'-long battle about worth and value between different groups of people. This is not new. I think there will come a day when our "us" vs. "them" seems as odd to my descendants as my ancestors' divisions seem to me.

In order to change, I have to be willing to acknowledge that my heart has been wrong. This is hard to do, but necessary. I want to look for God and see who he is, not who I want him to be.

May 10, 2013

Truth Performing

Last night, we flipped through TED Talks on Netflix and chose to watch one about Lie Spotting. Pamela Meyers spoke to an international audience about our deep ambivalence toward the truth. Some of the statistics she cited were staggering:

- For married couples, we lie to our spouse 1 out of every 10 encounters.
- For unmarried couples, we lie 1 out of every 3 encounters.
- We are more likely to lie to strangers than we are to co-workers.
- Men lie more about themselves.
- Women lie more about other people or to protect other people.

One study found that over a one-week period, lies were detected in
- 37% of phone calls
- 27 % of face to face meetings
- 21% of IM chats
-14% of email

Watching her speak, both of us were riveted. I'm interested in reading her book to understand more. When the speech was over (and the obscenely-loud end noise of the TED series had sounded its shock wave), we talked for many minutes.

I consider myself a truth-teller. I am passionate about truth. I try to be honest, even in casual settings like a "How are you doing?" query.

Hearing Meyers made me look at myself in a new light.

I learned early on in school that simply being me was likely to bring stares. Performing on purpose to solicit attention didn't bother me as much as getting attention by just being me. I investigated my empathy through trying on different moods, personae, and mindsets like they were new skins.

As I got older, I got better at shaping 'me' instead of being me. Even today, I restrain or reshape opinions, thoughts, and actions based on how I read any given 'audience'. -Not all of this is bad, mind you; courtesy and self-control are necessary to function in community! It only becomes a problem when I don't have places to simply be myself instead of thinking about what form 'me' should take.

I do think I'm passionate about truth. I think it is more accurate to say I try to figure out how much truth (sometimes very little) and what shape will fit in a given situation: a truth performer rather than a truth teller.

May 09, 2013

Success as a Habit of Grace

Years ago, my husband and I talked about what was necessary for success. Whether it's about cooking, fixing a car, painting a masterpiece, exercising patience, or mowing a lawn, there are elements they hold in common. I need knowledge, skills, time, and consistent choices in line with a desire.

There is another element, one my husband said was essential: you have to be willing to screw it up beyond all recognition.

I agree with him.

It is possible to learn something, even become good at it, without failing. Mastery of anything, though, requires a willingness to experiment, to fail spectacularly. True genius and genius of expression requires that I have grace for myself. Without the option of mistakes, the skill becomes about effort and control: limiting my expression instead of freeing it. Failing is a chance to learn new things. Failure is not a final judgment on my abilities. -If I make the same mistake over and over, I need to do a better job of learning. A bird that falls from the nest is not barred from flying; a bird that cannot fly finds alternatives (swimming or running, perhaps).

Today I began a new aspect of writing. I'm excited about it, but cautious, since I haven't done it before. Only time will tell if my gifts are a good match for this need. In the meantime, I'm reminding myself that success isn't about perfection or control. Success is about willing to fail.

Success is about grace.

May 08, 2013

Confounded by Complexity

So many choices seem easy, until I think about them.

Do I intervene in my child's disagreement with that kid on the playground? Yes!
But... I don't want to handicap him.
But the adversary is an older kid, so my kid might not be heard unless I'm present.
But I want him to learn to fight his own battles.
And on and on and on, until I'm stuck in so many 'good reasons' that picking either option seems like I'm ignoring the good points of the other option.

I've been told that the devil loves complexity. Christianity is simple, as in, "Love your neighbor." -Not easy, mind you, but simple. The truth so often sounds like the speaker is being a child, and the deepest answers sound like they deserve a "no duh" response. It's when we start thinking and analyzing, over-thinking and over-analyzing, that we become stuck. Good intention dwindles in fear or indecision.

I re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan recently, in Kenneth Bailey's book Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes. Bailey lived and taught in the Middle East for 60 years, and I appreciate learning the cultural threads that add such depth and richness.

In the Good Samaritan, I used to think the priest and the Levite just couldn't be bothered by the inconvenience. This conclusion is too blunt. The priest was headed downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho, likely after serving two weeks at the temple. Jewish law required that he help a fellow Jew who was injured. Since the man was beaten (Bailey says bandits in the Middle East usually only beat a victim if the victim resists, so the man was likely unconscious), the priest didn't know if he was dead. Since the man was stripped, the priest didn't know if the man was Jewish, Greek, Syrian, or some other foreigner. If the priest touched a dead body or a foreigner, he would be unclean. He would receive no payment in tithes (nor would his family) until his cleansing was completed. If the priest tried to serve and was suspected of being unclean, it had happened before that a priest was dragged outside the temple and stoned. If the priest got this wrong, he faced the possibility of death. Rather than open a can of worms, the priest pretended not to see the victim and walked on.

The Levites were servants to the priests, kind of like assistants. Bailey says it's likely the Levite would have known the priest was ahead of him on the road, and may even have been that particular priest's assistant. What does the Levite do? He knows the priest walked past without helping. If the Levite helps, he is criticizing the priest's understanding of the law. The Levite is then elevating his understanding above the priest's--a huge insult. The Levite, too, decides to walk past.

We see complexity and foresee difficulties or hardship, so we do nothing. The Samaritan came down the same road and chose to help, despite complexity he faced, too. In today's terms, it's as if an undocumented immigrant saw an injured border patrol guard and carried the guard to a hospital for care. After staying all night with the injured patient, the Samaritan gives the innkeeper enough cash to cover several days, then pledges himself for any other expenses, too. Despite all that might have happened to the Samaritan, he helped. He saw a need, knew he was able to meet that need, and did so.

So often I'm confounded by what I think is complexity, when in fact I'm caught up in my convenience.

May 07, 2013


I had a wonderful evening Friday night and blissful morning Saturday (see Saturday's blog entry). Sunday morning I realized I left my garnet necklace at the motel. It isn't tremendously valuable in the money sense, but it was a Valentine's Day gift years ago from my husband; it's valuable to me.

I tried calling the motel, but got no answer at the desk and no answering machine, either.

I forgot all about the necklace during the rest of Sunday and all day Monday. (Every other mom is now nodding her head in sympathy.)

The psalmist writes about lying awake in bed during the watches of the night, thinking over things, and I understand that. When I woke early this morning, the necklace came back to mind. While pondering it--ok, obsessing--I found a new layer of dross buried deep inside me.

In the last week, 'things' have been in the forefront of my mind. A lot. I dislike my near paranoia for losing track of things. Whether loaned out to someone, lost in a forgotten location, or heedlessly pitched because I wasn't paying attention, I hate losing things. For a recovering pharisee with a gift for administration and organizing AND a weakness for over-analyzing, such loss isn't brushed off. "What's wrong with me?!" "How could I possibly have lost track of that?" "Didn't I think to keep an eye on that/take care of that/make sure it was somewhere in the bag?"

My memory unhelpfully called up the other things I've lost over the years in hotels: the silk pajamas from college that I loved, forgotten on the hook behind a bathroom door and impossible to replace; the dress I found after hours of systematic hunting for style, fabric, color, price--I wore it twice, then accidentally left it in a motel room after a friend's wedding. What galls me most about this one was that I didn't notice I'd left it until THREE MONTHS LATER. I was appalled at my mind lapse, lack of concentration, and (in a tiny way) that I apparently had so few occasions calling for a dress.

I say I want a right attitude toward things, but when I look back at these times, I WAS treating them as things. I didn't obsess about them or make them a priority. Where I've run off the rails is when I realize I treated it as a thing and it's gone. I don't think I'm mad about being careless as much as my pride smarts that I can be very absent-minded at times.

Perhaps my problem isn't my attitude toward things, but my attitude toward my imperfection. It's OK to mourn the loss of something special, but I can also tell myself the truth: that the sun will continue rising and setting whether I get my necklace back or not.

But oh, how my heart still hopes I can find the necklace.

May 06, 2013

Discovering Secrets

This morning I learned my two children were planning to make juice this afternoon.

Not just any juice: George Juice.

Thank you, PBS and the makers of Curious George...

I learned in a back-hand way that my kids intended to combine red fruits and veggies ("And try a piece of raw fish as the secret ingredient!" said my daughter) to copy the juice George makes in one episode.

I said, "Mmm-hmm." I asked if they knew how much the fruits/veggies cost. I asked if they knew what 'in season' meant. I asked if they were intending to pay the cost for the ingredients. Answers to all of these questions were "no". (Daughter told me at this point that SHE was only going to make pretend juice.)

The cost really isn't that bad for the ingredients, but my inner revolt is in the matter-of-fact assumption that I will just fall in line with what they've decided. Especially when that decision takes time, prep work (whole watermelon + juicer = bad juju) and energy. Not to mention clean-up. I wish George's juice wasn't red. It stains more than most colors.

Just as I start to simmer about their assumption and imposition on me, I remember a 2nd-grader telling her mom excitedly about the crafty valentines she was going to make for her classmates. I didn't ask my mom to make them, but I did have a Jeeves attitude about getting the supplies (as in, "Supplies of this sort by this afternoon, Jeeves!"). She got them for me. It wasn't until this past year that I realized how rude my attitude must have been--but she still got them for me.

Then I think of all the times I race down my path and feel irked that God isn't racing along with me. I expect him to foot the bill, arrange the details, and facilitate my ideas. There are times he says no, and times (so many times!) he gives me grace.

Parenting is often two aims in tension. Here, I don't want to fall in the ditch of always saying 'no' because it inconveniences me; I love and cherish my kids' confident trust that I am interested in what excites them. I also value their ready belief that I will help them and provide what's needed. At the same time, I don't want to fall in the opposite ditch and always fulfill each whim. I don't want to leave them blind to what their choices can cost others.

We probably will make the juice later today. My son pointed out we already have a few of the ingredients, and I do love experimenting with them as we learn different things. Abba God, please help me see when my listening turns to assuming you'll jump on board with me.

May 04, 2013


If I could visit my 15 years' younger self and relate that my all-time favorite wish list header is 20 hours of solitude, past me would be baffled.

Fifteen years ago, I journaled about loneliness, wanting to be known and needed, wanting someone else to care when I walked through the door. Fifteen years ago I didn't know the sharp edge of being needed, how it often morphs into being taken for granted. How the cutting, careless knife of another's need can pare away my privacy and personal space. I don't think past me would have listened, though, let alone understood.

Adding fifteen years has meant adding wisdom about differing dreams for differing stages of life. For now, with demand for solitude far outweighing supply, I crave being alone. I strive for limited input.

My husband and best friend knows me well. I asked for (and immediately got) an afternoon/evening/morning by myself for Mother's Day. I've had multiple meals and bedtime that were choices I made about only one person.

'Tis been bliss.

I go back this morning (motel checkout is in a couple hours), muscles relaxed from weight I got to release for several hours. It's easier to pick it up--easier to WANT to pick it up--after such a gift of grace.

(No, my husband doesn't teach training courses in cherishing, but I think he'd make a killing if he did!)

May 03, 2013

Let it Be

Last night we got home from our son's music program, and as I tucked him into bed I sincerely, lovingly, told him I trusted him to cry himself to sleep and I would see him in the morning.

To everything there is a season, according to Ecclesiastes, and that includes seasons of mourning. Our elementary school music teacher is retiring this year. She's been teaching young kids to love music for more than 30 years--she was, in fact, MY 6th grade music teacher in this same school. Since it was her last music program, she fought tears at the end as she praised the kids and thanked the parents. Then the kids recited a poem they'd written for her and gave her flowers from her fellow teachers, she got a standing ovation from the packed theater, and her two sons (grown, married, with kids of their own and living out of state) came on-stage to give her hugs and kisses.

Nancy wasn't the only one fighting tears last night. Not by a long shot.

In the midst of the furor, my mate looked up on-stage and saw that our son was sobbing. In a moment, I was in lioness mode, that mindset where you will do/kill whatever is needed to get to your child. There are certainly benefits to living in your home town: MY kindergarten graduation was in that theater; I sang in a number of musical roles on the very same stage. I know the fastest route to reach back-stage, even through several hundred people. I got backstage in moments and flagged a teacher (who, to continue the small-town interweaving, is married to the man who remodeled my parents' house when I was in junior high and was herself my daughter's Sunday School teacher last year). She rescued my boy from his back row riser and got him to me, still in tears. I had worried that he might be having a panic attack or be severely over-tired, but that wasn't the case.

"Honey," I asked him, "what's wrong?"
"I will never get to see Mrs. S. again!"

I quickly reassured him that Mrs. S. would still be his music teacher for the rest of the school year, and he wiped his eyes as we headed through the crowd. He got sad again, though, when he thought about saying good-bye at the end of the year.

We've talked with our kids about it being OK to feel sad and OK to cry. We try to help them sort out which things are worth tears and which aren't. When we tucked our tired child into bed last night, he was still sad. I gently told him that crying can help your heart grieve, and that's OK. I said if he cried a while, he might feel very tired and he'd be able to go to sleep right away. I told him I trusted him to know how long he wanted to cry about saying good-bye to his beloved music teacher, and that I would see him in the morning.

This is a gift we parents can give our kids: space, permission, and guidance to grieve the things that matter.

May 02, 2013

Second Glance

I spoke with a friend yesterday about the glance around a room we women make. She mentioned that she would like to see a study that had each woman in a room periodically write out their 'lists' of ranking and what those rankings were. Not every woman would rank a room the same way, we thought.

This thought interests me. When I scan a room, I see traits most often linked to areas where I am wounded (insecurities about weight, physical fitness, physical beauty or body shape) or my personal ideals of form or behavior. I've struggled most of my life with how much to talk. I come from a family with the gift of gab and very little self-consciousness. Add in a pinch of lack of social awareness, and I'm too often a set-up for misreading an audience and hogging a stage. I also (most unfortunately) am one of those people who talk more when they are nervous. Because of this, I admire people who are able to remain quiet and listen, keeping their opinions to themselves until asked for their input. I can scan a room and get a baseline on who in that room is likely to be a good listener and who might hog the stage -- I've been studying those traits my whole life.

My point is this: do our ranking lists resemble a personalized cast, a plaster casing for our wounds and wishes? Do we use our internal ranking to remind ourselves of how we are imperfect and how far we have to go before we are the person we long to be? How much of our scanning keeps us at a distance from healing, from helping those around us in ways we were crafted to help?

These are my wonderings today. How about you? What of your heart does your cast conceal or guard against?

May 01, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye

A woman walks into a room full of people and puts her superpower to use: she scans the room.

Guys may not know it, and the women I know don't discuss it, but every woman I've asked has this superpower. In a 5 second scan or less, we can tell you a scandalous amount of information about the people in that room. And none of it, I repeat, none of it, has to do with personality.

In the blink of an eye, I can tell you who the most popular woman/women are, which woman is likely wearing the priciest get-up, which women are uncomfortable, which woman a pack of guys is most likely to hit on, which woman the other women resent, and which women in the room are most likely to be "my" people.

Every woman does this.

Since we could see, we've trained to read facial expression, body posture, vocal tone, eye direction and every non-verbal cue you might think of to figure out another's mood--and where we fit in the social hierarchy. And every time we walk into a room, we hone that skill just a little bit more, adding to the hours we've spent. It's ridiculous, like a person who can't walk past a piano without sitting down to practice for at least fifteen minutes.

Doing this increases my focus on appearance. I know that. It often adds to my insecurities, underscoring wounds and scars I already have. I know that, too. Because relational awareness is built into my psyche and physiology, telling myself not to do it only makes me more aware of everything I shouldn't notice. Telling an addict that their problem is solved by not taking a drink or not doing bad habit X is true, but unhelpful. Jesus talked about this in a parable about a man who had a demon cast out; the space wasn't filled with anything new, and the demon (plus six of the demon's friends) came back and made life worse than it was before.

I think I'm supposed to redirect this superpower, not shut it off. Guys fight a turn-and-look response when an attractive woman walks by (I've encouraged guys to use it as an opportunity to pray for the woman when it happens). Telling myself not to scan a room would be exhausting, and I don't think it would help. Instead, I think I'll scan the room to help me learn which women are hurting, could use encouragement, would welcome a compliment, are feeling in need of a friend, fought all their inner demons to be in that room and are longing to be anywhere else.

In the blink of an eye, I might learn to see how God sees the people in front of me.