Grace guarding my rear

I have reached the season of life when I anxiously count the days until the beginning of school—not (only) because of the bickering and boredom and crap all over the house, plus the “there’s nothing to eat,” and “stop looking at me!” and “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?”—I hit that point years ago. This year, I craved the ending of the summer and the beginning of school so I could SLOW DOWN.

Here’s how summer goes with teens/preteens/pre-preteens: you set the alarm for 7:00 am. You drive one to Ballet Intensive. You drive another to Sports Practice. You drive another to Camp Interesting and Educational. Then you pick up #1 from dance, grab a quick lunch before you pick up #2 from practice, take him home and pick up #3 from camp. Then #1 wants to meet a friend at the movie theater and #3 wants to play with a friend, while #2 glares at you and declares there is nothing to do and his life is meaningless. At 5:59 you realize you’ve been in the car ALL DAY LONG and have nothing prepared for dinner, and since they insist upon eating EVERY NIGHT, sweetbabyMosesinabasket, you throw in a frozen pizza…or better yet, instruct your Privileged And Well-Rounded Brood to help themselves to a bowl of cereal.

At least when school starts, they go away for seven hours and you don’t have to see them, drive them, or entertain them ALL DAY LONG.

Then of course, school starts, and all is right and well with your quiet, peaceful little world…and by Day Three you are pulling out your gray hair and waking up in the middle of the night wondering how you are going to get everyone where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there.

I miss sleeping.

I’m kidding—sort of. (Not about the sleeping part.) Not every week of our summer was so jam-packed, and we did enjoy some pretty sweet travel time.

This one worked with Vietnamese orphans in Hanoi:

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These two worked with an orphanage in Mexico:

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And we spent one weekend touring Washington, D.C. at a frenetic pace with our bestbestbest friends, then hung out together on an island for a week.

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Kinda makes up for all the driving. Almost.

Deep in my bones, deeper in my heart, I feel a new beginning, a fresh start, a sense of hope. I’m not sure why. But I think this year is going to be different.

My eldest struggled in so many ways last year, which is her story to tell. As her mom, I wished I could take away her hurt—but at the same time, I knew pain and doubt and loneliness are some of our greatest teachers, and her story is being exquisitely written. God’s favorite job is taking the broken and making it beautiful—but the “broken” stage truly sucks.

Before her Vietnam trip, I found this passage in Isaiah 58, and I began praying these words on her behalf.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. (vs. 6-11, emphasis mine)

Generosity has the power to heal us. To summarize Jen Hatmaker’s interpretation: when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, then told the disciples to do this “in remembrance of Me,” He was saying, continually make this real. Continually allow yourselves to be broken and poured out for others because in the breaking, we find wholeness. In the pouring out, we are filled. In the dying, we find healing.

In serving, we find God—for God dwells among the least, the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten. That’s his ZIP code.

Your salvation will come like the dawn. Dawn is a pretty cool time of day. (Or so I’ve heard.) Dawn is a new beginning, filled with hope and promise. New things are budding up, waiting to burst open and surprise us. Our wounds are less wounded.

Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. This slightly confused me until I imagined walking on a path (my path has lots of trees and sun-speckled dirt)—I’m walking toward something good, accompanied by my companions: Mercy, Grace, Justice, and Peace. When I turn around and remember the pain and hurt behind me, I see the love of God. My past is filtered through God’s love for me, how He was always with me, even when I didn’t believe He was. His glory protects me from behind.

I moved a couple of times as a child, and I transferred from one college to another during my junior year. The latter was the most painful, and I went kicking and screaming. For most of my adult life, I’ve felt bitter and cheated out of a complete college experience. Being uprooted left me flailing. Twenty years later, I still have dreams about returning and finishing my education where I began, as if my unconscious brain is somehow trying to achieve wholeness.

Only recently have I looked behind me and seen God’s love guarding my rear. (Interpret that as you will.) Those were some tough years—emotionally, spiritually, medically, mentally—but they undoubtedly shaped me and prepared me for the even tougher years that followed. I can finally rest in gratitude for all I experienced. And, funny thing, when I see that season through the lens of grace, all my other painful seasons are washed and colored and guarded, too.

Did this change of heart result from the mere passage of time and acquisition of wrinkles and chin hair? Perhaps. But I’m pretty sure getting out of my own head and stepping into the brokenness of God’s beloved has something to do with it, too. Feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in my bitterness, stuck in my grief—that’s near impossible when I choose to love, when I serve, when I listen.

To bungle paraphrase Solomon, the summer is past, and the rains are over and gone. It’s a new day, a new year, a new beginning. May we love deeply from our own sacred brokenness, and may our wounds heal quickly. May our darkness be flooded with light, may our gardens be well-watered, may our strength be restored.

(Also: may dinner magically appear on the table every night, and may we not run out of gas while driving to Kingdom Come and back every afternoon, forever and ever, amen.)

On making decisions

In 1995, I was a starry-eyed college senior, ridiculously in love with this cute boy and his big brown eyes. He wanted to be a doctor. He gave me a ring. And together, we planned our future. We had no (insert multiple swear words) idea what we were getting ourselves into. Which is definitely a good thing.

Deciding where he would go to medical school was our first major joint decision. He applied and interviewed at multiple schools, then narrowed the list to two: UT-Southwestern in Dallas, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Have English degree, will travel—I had zero career opportunities lined up. We figured I would find something in either city. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, only that I loved words.

(Not much has changed in nineteen years.)

So we talked about it. And talked. And talked. And talked. For weeks, I think. And we prayed and prayed and prayed, then talked some more. We weighed all the pros and cons. We begged God for a lightning bolt to set a bush on fire and unleash an audible voice, telling us what to do. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

It came down to this:

1. Dallas

  • all our friends were moving there
  • our families were close to the area
  • comfortable and familiar

2. Houston

  • the armpit of the entire country
  • don’t know anyone
  • unfamiliar

No brainer, right?

I spent part of my childhood in Houston, and I was well into adulthood before I forgave my parents for moving us to Dallas. I stewed in fury for the latter part of my adolescence because we were no longer living in Houston. I was an angry, angry teenager. The irony of not wanting to return to Houston as an adult does not escape me. Life is weird like that.

But BCM had a great school, and at the time, it was structured a little differently, which Michael liked. We continued to talk and pray.

I remember tears. Lots of tears.

As we prayed together, we always said the same thing. God, show us where you want us to be. We only want what you want. We only want to be where you want us to be.

And also, pleasepleasepleaseplease tell us.

We kept waiting for the lighting, the burning bush, the audible voice. We’d even settle for a whisper. We just wanted to know.

After weeks of this, and a looming deadline, and silence, we sat on the couch in my apartment and looked at each other. We knew.

We were moving to Houston.

And I cried. Again.

As much as we prayed and begged God for a clear answer, we never got it. But what he gave us was a gift far better, and one we have carried with us and returned to throughout our marriage.

It doesn’t matter where you go. I will bless either decision. What matters is the process. What matters is how you snuggle up close to me and ask for my wisdom. That’s what I want for you. And because of that, I am giving you the freedom to choose. Go ahead. I am with you. I am for you. You are mine.

In hindsight, Houston was absolutely the best place for us to be. Yes, sometimes we couldn’t see the skyline because of the smog. Yes, the traffic was horrendous. Yes, walking from the front door to the car in July left us drenched in sweat and stink.

But.

We formed priceless friendships with people who challenged us and walked with us and shaped us, many of whom are still precious friends. We would not be the same people today without them.

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All of these babies are now in high school. Seriously.

We loved our church—not only the community, but also the blend of liturgy and art, the embracing of silence, the learning of meditative Taize prayer and worship.

We loved the city. Houston’s food and culture and diversity rivals New York City. (Almost. Even though we were too broke to experience most of it.)

We needed to be away from our parents and our friends. We did. We needed to be in a place where we only had each other, where we were forced to depend on each other and begin our marriage without a safety net.

Sitting on the couch in my college apartment, we couldn’t have known any of this.

But it was absolutely the best choice.

Could we have spent the first four to five years of marriage in Dallas and still have been blessed? Undoubtedly. But we didn’t, and neither of us would want to go back in time and change a single thing.

(Except perhaps the eyewear. And the clothing choices.)

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Nineteen years and countless decisions later, we still return to that experience, and now we are teaching our children. Who you are is more important than what you do. When we have reached other proverbial forks in the road, sometimes our next steps are clearly lit. Most times they are not. Regardless, we know that our hearts and our love for God are the priority.

In the seeking, we find wisdom.

In the trusting, we find peace.

In the silence, we find him.

 

The two roads diverge in a yellow wood, and God will go with us down either.

And that makes all the difference.

Showing up

This is me, showing up.

Showing up the the second most difficult thing in life, especially for the creative. Showing up means saying, “Here I am! Let’s get to work!” —even when you have no idea where to start or where you’re going or what you’re doing. You show up. You sit down, and you begin.

And then, you create something out of nothing—which isn’t entirely true. The Nothing is actually a Something you didn’t know was there. The Nothing Something could be an image, a word, a phrase, an idea. It could be something you noticed while sitting in the car line or changing the eleventh load of laundry. It is usually a whisper that beckons you to follow it, though you know not where it will lead. Your job is to follow, to observe, to record.

So you do. And from that whisper that is Nothing Something emerges a Thing of Beauty that you cannot contain or harness or control—it acts and speaks in a voice heard differently by every soul it encounters. Some may hear majestic major chords, some may hear a laughing trill, some may hear a mournful minor key. But they all hear what they need to hear, what will soothe them, what will inspire them, what will sustain them—so you simply play the music. With trembling hands, you hold out your gift, waiting for it to be received.

Showing up is the second most difficult thing in life. Your Thing of Beauty being ignored—that’s the first. Unveiling your secrets, exposing your raw weaknesses, coloring your soul on a page—that is what frees you; the loud silence that follows shackles you to your insecurity. The silence screams you are not enough, you are not worthy, you are not important. The silence draws you back behind your carefully constructed fortress, the thick walls that protect you from feeling insignificant, but also keep out light and breath and warmth. They keep out the community.

So this is me, showing up. This is me, stepping out from behind the walls, fearing the silence, but refusing to cower. This is my healing, my oxygen, my bread and wine. This is my broken turned into beauty.

This is me, showing up.

Aliens & Sacrificial Love – My Messy Beautiful

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I am thrilled to join one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, in her Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project. Glennon is quite literally changing the world, one mama at a time. In her words, “I learned fast that when you take a leap of faith and introduce your REALEST self—the REAL everybody else’s step forward. Heart to heart—soul to soul—people allow themselves to really be seen.”  So much freedom is found when we stop pretending we have it all together, when we agree to share a safe and sacred space of authenticity. This is my brutiful offering…

 

Alien

 

Many, many times during our fifteen years of parenthood, my husband and I have looked at each other, exhausted and frustrated and panicked, thinking This is not what we signed up for. This is not what we imagined when we said, “Let’s have a baby!” Somewhere along the way, our precious bundle of joy struck a deal with an alien life form and switched places.

This whole parenting thing?  Not for wimps. It is hard. It is messy. And it is beautiful.

The first week of school is One Of Those Times. Disruption, exhaustion, new routine, new teacher, new friends—throw in moving to a new house and a new school, and you end up with a perfect storm that will inevitably explode into some serious ugly. Especially when you are a nine year old middle child.

He was tired. (Who wouldn’t be after a full summer of sleeping and playing, then having to wake up at 6:20 every morning and go to school all day? Gah!) He was lonely and confused. And because of alien behavior over the summer, the rug was still being pulled out from under him at home in the form of some tough-love discipline.

Put it together and what do you get? Ugly.

Him: Screaming, yelling, name-calling, hitting, pushing, blatant defiance and disobedience. Me: crying, yelling, ignoring, more crying, more yelling. By Wednesday night, I was an exhausted, frazzled mess, curled in a fetal position, wondering where exactly we went wrong. This is not my child. This is not who I have raised. But he’s in there somewhere. I know he is.

Not surprisingly, I had a hard time sleeping. As I lay awake, an idea started to form in my mushy, fatigued little brain. A conversation. A plan.

The next morning was off to a (sadly expected) rough start. He gave us an ultimatum. “Give me what I want, or I’m not going to school.”

“That’s fine,” we said. “But you still have to get up and get dressed, because you will need to explain to your principal and your teacher why you’re not going to class today.”

He decided to go to school.

That afternoon, I picked up all the kids, brought them home, gave them a snack, then called him into my bedroom.  I closed the door and sat on my bed, inviting him to join me.

“I want to tell you the story of you,” I began. Then—lovingly, tenderly, respectfully—I recounted my tale. I told him how overjoyed we were when the stick turned blue, how we planned and prayed, how we counted the days until we met him. And then, in specific but discreet detail, I described all that I experienced and endured because I love him so much.

Morning sickness. “You know how yucky you feel when you throw up? I barfed every day for a month.”

Discomfort. “For four months, I had to sleep sitting up, otherwise you would get up under my ribs, and I’d wake up feeling like my ribs were broken.”

Labor. “Can you remember the worst tummy ache you’ve ever had? I had that every three to five minutes for about nine hours…”

Exhaustion. “I had only slept for about two hours, then we had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, and you weren’t born until the next afternoon…” and “Staying in the hospital isn’t restful. Someone came in every few hours to check on me, and when they weren’t checking on me, I had to feed you…”

Nursing. “You know how it feels when you fall on your bike and hit your No-Man’s-Land? Imagine someone squeeeeeezing you there reeeeally hard for twenty minutes straight, then puking sour milk all over you, and then coming back to do it again every two hours, around the clock, every day.”

Exhaustion Part II. “You’ve seen your two year old cousins this year. That’s how old your sister was when you were born. I had to take care of you and her, and Daddy was working a lot. None of our family lived near enough to help me. I didn’t have many close friends. Sometimes I couldn’t even take a shower for days.”

Soccer. “We know God has gifted you to play soccer, and we love to watch you play. This is exactly how much money we spend every year for you to play soccer. We could take a really nice vacation with that money, but we don’t. This is exactly how much time we spend in the car every single week, just taking you to practices and games.”

At the end of this extended, very detailed speech, I said, “Look at my eyes. I want you to remember this. All of these things I told you about? This is why I deserve your respect, and why it makes me so sad and angry when you treat me badly and call me names and say that I don’t love you. I have endured so much for you, and I have sacrificed everything for you. I love you.

He gazed at me with his huge, liquid brown eyes—the same eyes that captured me nine years ago when I held him as a wrinkled, bald, beautiful newborn—snuggled up next to me, wrapped his arms around my neck, and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

With that, The Alien returned to his home planet, and my sweet, tenderhearted, obedient son returned.

I knew our little chat would stir his heart and rock his world because he can’t stand to see anyone hurting or sad or sick. He’s the kid who will empty his piggy bank for the American Heart Association fundraiser or the special offering at church for the Vietnamese orphans. He’s the kid who won’t let me drive past a homeless person without rolling down the window and offering my spare change. He’s that kind of kid.

(Despite the wild Norwegian-Spanish flare he comes by oh-so-honestly.)

I knew that illustrating the proof of my love and how much it cost would reach the part of his heart he had closed off to us, and I hoped he would respond with tender humility and gratitude. I knew how much happier he would be when he returned to who he really is.

How much like our children we are.

Lonely, terrified, insecure.

Disobedient, defiant, unkind, disrespectful.

And does not God similarly speak to the prodigal? Look at my eyes…I love you so much. Here’s what I did for you. This is how much I gave. I gave my life for you. I sacrificed everything because I love you so much. Please let me love you. Please act in love and gentleness so you can experience the life I have planned for you.

My Monkee sisters, rest. Breathe deeply. Know the limitless love of your Father/Mother God. How much more peacefully and joyfully we live—with ourselves and with each other—when we simply receive His love for us, when we know who we are, when we believe we are worth it. How much happier we are when we simply obey and live loved.

How abundantly we experience life when our own little aliens return to their home planet.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Entwined

He moves swiftly through the family room, carrying a basket of clean laundry, intent to deliver it to our bedroom before tackling the next item on his long to-do list. I reach out from where I’m sitting and brush his arm with my fingers as he passes me, and I smile. His steps slow for a nanosecond, and he looks at me, first quizzically, then he grins, the quick change in his expression noticeable only to one who has known him so intimately for twenty-one years.

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Midnight premieres are not what they used to be. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m not complaining. When a studio schedules a weekend release of a blockbuster movie, theaters start playing the film at 8:00 on Thursday evening, not midnight. Which means you can cross off youthful adventure and still be in bed before the carriage turns back into a pumpkin and your RLS flairs up again.

Meghan wanted to go to the premiere of Divergent last week—she preferred the actual midnight showing, so I pulled the 40-Card out of my back pocket—we compromised and went at 10. When you’re fifteen and don’t have another ride, whaddya gonna do?

I had not read the books yet, and I really liked the movie, which is forcing me to reevaluate my read-the-book-before-you-see-the-movie rule. I’ve stuck to that rule hard and fast, but it always leaves me disappointed. The book is always better than the movie. I usually leave the movie wanting more of the book. But see the movie first, enjoy the movie, and still love the book? I’m rethinking this.

For the uninitiated, the Divergent series throws the reader into the middle of a dystopian post-apocalyptic society where the ruling authorities divide the population according to each person’s single defining characteristic: service, bravery, intellect, peacefulness, or honesty. There’s no overlap—unless you are “Divergent.” Which, of course, Tris (our sixteen year old heroine) is. And which, of course, she has to keep a secret or lose her life. She meets Four, one of her instructors in the Dauntless faction, who also happens to be Divergent. And, of course, they start to kinda like each other.

That’s really all you need to know. (That, plus government is power-hungry and bad and wants to kill people to maintain control.)

So there’s this scene where all of the non-Divergent Dauntless are in a train car, under the influence of this government-issued mind-control serum, on their way to wage war against another faction. (Hello, young adult dystopian science fiction.) Even though their Divergence makes them immune to the serum, Tris and Four pretend to be mind-controlled to prevent divulging their secret. But Tris doesn’t yet know that Four is a Divergent, though she suspects he is, and she doesn’t know for sure if he’s only pretending to be zombified. So she inches her way through all the zoned-out Dauntless and stands next to him. In a moment of enormous suspense and tension, he slowly, surreptitiously takes her hand and laces his fingers through hers.

He’s not a zombie. And they’re holding hands.

For an instant, my insides flutter and swim. I can hardly breathe.

Because he held her hand.

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“So, um, I had a really good time this weekend.” He twisted his watch around his wrist, fidgeting with the strap.

“Yeah, me too,” I smiled. I looked out across the river, the moon reflecting its light like an unfolding secret.

“So what does that mean?”

I blinked.

Two hours later, we stood up from that place—grinning, nervous, joyously exhilarated—and began to walk back to his car. He took off his coat and put it around my shoulders, then reached for my hand, our fingers entwining. My stomach leaped. We looked at each other and smiled, moving together along the sidewalk through puddles of light and shadow.

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I vaguely remember dating. Before bills and obligations, before careers and babies, before diapers and potty training and tantrums, before soccer practices and ballet recitals and Cub Scout campouts, before sleepless nights wondering if our mistakes could be redeemed.

I remember dating. I remember how I could not suppress a smile when he looked at me, when I heard his voice on the phone, when he touched my arm or my face. I remember resting my head on his shoulder, and his hand touching my knee, and the thrill that lit up inside me, knowing he believed I was something special. I remember escaping to secret places together, making out for hours, the too much and the not enough. I remember nights of talking until we could not keep our eyes open, but not wanting to leave because leaving would mean thoughts and ideas and words left unexplored.

I remember wearing white, vowing ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Amen.

And then…

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After seeing the movie, I read the entire Divergent series—three very thick novels—in four days. I couldn’t put it down. Not because it was especially good writing, but the storyline intrigued me, the suspense consuming. Plus it was a nice little distraction from my reality—the one that includes never-ending piles of laundry and mail, the 300 miles I drive every week, rarely venturing more than five miles from my house. Dystopia doesn’t seem so bad.

While I wish the characters would do something other than pinching the bridges of their noses or rubbing the backs of their necks or wiping their sweaty palms on their legs every other page, I found myself rooting for Tris and Four/Tobias. And I would rush through other plot lines and chapters to reach their next scene together. The silly schoolgirl in me went all a-flutter at their interactions, the building chemistry and tension, the what-is-he-thinking, the electricity. It’s a little ridiculous, I know. But I miss that.

If you’ve been married for more than a week, you know. Romantic love quickly yields to hard reality and tough choices. It doesn’t disappear, but sometimes it’s harder to find. The butterflies migrate, occasionally leaving indigestion in their wake.

But you still choose to love, you still decide to stay. Love is a decision, not simply a feeling. True love is joining together, yielding, serving, sharing, building. True love chooses to act lovingly, even when he does not deserve your kindness. True love accepts his kindness, even when you do not deserve to receive it. In other words

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
(I Corinthians 13:3-7, The Message)

And here’s what I’ve discovered: choosing to act lovingly will produce loving feelings. The heart follows the head. The feeling follows the choice. Not the other way around. You don’t feel “in love” anymore? Welcome to adulthood. Pull up a chair; you’re in good and abundant company. The emotional rush of dating cannot sustain itself. Love craves something deeper, more intimate, more permanent. And when it matures, when we learn how to choose love, then we can choose to act lovingly. It takes work and will, and you might have to bite your tongue in half to keep your thoughts from slipping out. But the payoff is worth it.When we choose to act lovingly, we cannot help but stir affection. We cannot help but remember why we chose each other.

///

He smiles and keeps walking, and I lower my eyes back to my book. I hear the closing of drawers, the rattle of hangers, the shutting of cabinet doors in our closet. You totally scored with this one, you know. He puts away the laundry. Yum.

He walks back into the family room, sits down on the couch next to me, and picks up the remote.

“Hi.”

“Hey there.”

I rest my head on his shoulder, he places his hand on my knee, and together we share this sacred space of years and moments, loss and triumph, joy and grief. We drift through the light and shadow, ever entwined.

The Ins, the Outs, and losing control

I recently deleted the Facebook app on my phone in an attempt to get a life.

Seriously. When I am bored/unmotivated/uninspired/procrastinating, I could easily allow myself to be sucked into the vortex of wasted time, only to be spit out a hour and a half later, having accomplished nothing but a worn-out fingertip from all the scrolling. Plus my brain started to spin from All The Words. Oh my. So many words.

Last year, I laid down Facebook as my Lenten sacrifice—except when I sat in one particular space. That worked well, and it opened my eyes to the gross amount of wasted time and energy. (Plus, I made sure I stayed well-hydrated for those six weeks.)

But this year, even before Lent, I deleted my app. I’ll still use my Safari app to take a quick peek, but it’s not nearly as user-friendly, so I don’t stay on for very long. Which is good. Because really. Ninety-eight-point-two percent of FB content is just dumb. (Your posts, of course, fall into the 1.8%  that is clever and inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable.)

So you would think with all this freed-up mental energy, I would be racking up my lost IQ points and expending some serious creative energy. Instead, I download Monopoly. Which is equally as dumb and time-wasting.

Except when I’m kicking some serious Monopoly tail. It’s quite a rush when the computer player lands on Boardwalk with a hotel and pays me $2000, forcing him to mortgage all his properties in order to stay alive. Boo to the Yah.

But when I’m on the other end, it kinda sucks. I was making my way around the board yesterday, $22 in my account, all my properties mortgaged, while the other three computer players had 4- and 5-digit accounts and hotels coming out their ears. Or race car wheels. Whatever. Not fair! screamed my inner eight-year old. I felt like I was back in middle school…or high school…or college…or playgroup…or PTA: left behind, out of the loop, excluded from the cool kids, not able to keep up, not able to stay in the game, always on the outside. A loser in a game I didn’t want to play. Not fair.

A few weeks ago, I chaperoned a trip to the bowling alley with a group of middle and high school students from our church. I sat back and stealthily observed the fascinating dynamics of the In Crowds and the Out Crowds. Here’s what I noticed:

The In Crowd = long, straight, frizzless hair; loud, enthusiastic. Running shorts. Flawless skin and makeup. Always, always chewing gum (with their mouths open, looking like cows. One of my pet peeves.)

The Out Crowd = quiet. Slightly awkward. Less than perfect skin, hair, makeup. Occasionally glaring at the In Crowd, but also afraid to look at them. Definitely more fearful, less outgoing, more insecure. They almost cower in the shadow of the In Crowd.

I could slap a nametag on each girl with the name of someone I used to know.

As a mom, such dynamics break my heart. I know the lines dividing Cool from Not Cool are false and unnecessary, that all teenage girls have pain and insecurity, that they all feel like outsiders. At least I think they do. My friend D insists that she (a perky blonde California cheerleader) knew everyone liked her and she had no insecurity. Which means, of course, that all the non-blonde, non-cheerleader types like me hated her.

(Sorry, D.)

But today she is one of my dearest friends. For the bowling crowd, someday the lines will move and sometimes disappear altogether, someday the Ins and the Outs will belong to each other. Someday they will share coffee and projects and secrets, they will speak kindly to each other and laugh together and enjoy each other. Someday the shared adult experiences will evaporate the false divisions of adolescence.

But for now, they will just ignore each other, resent each other, glare at each other.

And, fellow heartbroken moms, there is nothing we can do about it. Lately this truth has flattened me. Even if I did everything right (I didn’t), even if I were a perfect mother (I’m not)—even then, my kids would still be jacked up, insecure, and afraid. Even then, they would be broken and hurt. Even then, they would doubt their value, their purpose, their significance. Even then.

Even the most loved kids from the most loving families can feel unlovable. Even the best kids from the best families can make very bad decisions. I’ll let you in on a little secret: we have zero control, and there are zero guarantees. That verse we quote and claim and hang on walls and embroider on pillows?

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). 

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride,

 “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So let’s agree to shelve it, please. (What?! Incontheevable.)

When you look at the original language, this verse translates as a proverb, not a promise. There’s a huge difference. Train up a child according to his palate [in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old, he will not turn from it. In other words, if your kid likes music, encourage him to develop that gift, enroll him in piano lessons, and when he is old, he will still like music. Your kid is an athlete? A dancer? An artist? Embrace that gift and teach her to love it…and when she’s an adult, she will still love it. The unspoken implication is you shouldn’t force your kid to be something he’s not. If he doesn’t like sports, don’t insist upon Little League. When he’s old, he still won’t like it, no matter how many pitches you make him hit.

That’s all. Nothing here about how teaching enough right things will guarantee your kid will grow up to be a good person.

Sorry to burst that little bubble.

Like I said, zero control and zero guarantees.

I’m realizing lately that my kids could very easily walk away from the faith in which we have so intentionally raised them. Of course, I hope they don’t. I pray they will embrace the truth and joy and hope and peace we have tried to teach them. I hope they figure out for themselves that what we have taught them is true and good and worth it.

But they might not.

And there’s nothing I can do about that. Just like there’s nothing I can do to make my child feel included and loved at the bowling alley. Or at school, or on the playground, or at a friend’s house, or at church.

That doesn’t mean I’m without hope or purpose in my parenting, and that doesn’t exempt me from teaching them and loving them and pouring into them. Not at all. It only means that I have to release control—no, my illusion of control—because there is so little I can actually control. And my kids’ choices and feelings are not one of those things.

(How’s that for uplifting?)

So I pray. I pray that God will bless them with faith to believe he is who he says he is, and that they are who God says they are. I pray he will protect them, hold them, speak to them…and that they will listen. And if when they don’t? I will continue to pray, knowing that he is a master of divine redemption, of taking the broken and making it beautiful. Some of my favorite people have long, long stories of brokenness and beauty.

My friend Erika survived leukemia. We’re attempting to write a book about it. She has shared many profound truths with me (that we can’t wait to share with you), and one of the greatest is this: she realizes the same Jesus who held her hand and healed her during her horrific leukemia treatment is the same Jesus who holds her teenagers. He took care of her; he will take care of them.

And mine. And yours.

The Sacred Scared: Fear of having failed

Something extraordinary happened over at Momastery last week. Brave women, strong women, honest women, women whose names we recognize and admire, women with huge hearts and giant platforms, stepped into the public confessional and whispered their shared secret:

They are scared.

Glennon calls this the Sacred Scared, which I love. To be vulnerable is sacred. It is holy. It says I am weak, and I am frightened, and we can share this dark space together because we are all scared. And maybe then, together in our fear, we will be less scared and more brave. And they discovered the simple act of showing up, even when we’re stuck in this sloppy, tangled, beautiful mess of fear—that, my friends, is an act of bravery which lights the way to freedom.

So each courageous writer—Rachel and Sarah, Jen and Kristen, Jamie and Nate, Tara and Jamie, Shauna and Sarah—posted a short essay describing her biggest fear, along with a no-makeup, this-is-the-real-me photo. (To be fair, Nate is not a woman, but he is a writer and a pastor…and he looks fabulous without makeup.)

Glennon also offers this bit of wisdom:

We hear a lot lately about the importance of being vulnerable in front of others, but we haven’t been taught how to respond to someone else’s vulnerability, so I’ll be offering suggestions about how to receive vulnerability during this series. Here’s the first one: When someone lets you into her Sacred Scared – she is showing you her messy insides NOT because she wants you to fix it, but because she trusts you enough to let you know the real, true her.

Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you just Let It Be for her. But she walks in and instead of flopping down on the laundry covered couch, she starts cleaning up the mess. Your mess is making her too uncomfortable. She starts to FIX IT instead of appreciating your mess as a trust offering. How do you feel about that?

Let’s not try to fix each other’s Sacred Scared, if we can avoid it. The people in this series are letting you in to see their Real, Beautiful Mess. Let’s not try to fix them, because they don’t need to be fixed. Neither do you. Let’s just try to find some comfort and love and maybe even Me Too in the offerings.

So even though my platform is practically non-existent and my audience is small, I’m joining their chorus and admitting

I am terrified that I have failed as a mother.

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My kids are now fifteen, twelve, and nine. People tell you when your kids are tiny how fast the time will fly, but you’re so immersed in whining and tantrums and poop that you don’t believe them—or you hope they are right. I asked Gretchen last week, “do you remember when our kids were cute and sweet? Because I miss cute and sweet. I’m pretty sure they were cute and sweet. I’m almost certain they used to like me.”

She laughed. “I was so tired, I don’t remember any of it.”

Last weekend, our house was swimming in cute and sweet. Our five year old nephew and three year old twin niece and nephew came to visit, and they brought an abundance of snuggles and giggles and adoration. My favorite moment of the entire weekend? Sitting with both twins in my lap, reading Curious George, complete with voices and intonations and questions and observations.

I miss this, I thought. And then, Thank God! I know I did something right. I know I read with my kids. Hours and hours, book after book, I remember reading to them. 

Because lately, the realization of all I didn’t do and the fear of not having done enough leaves me trembling and breathless and very, very sad. Did I teach them all the important things? Did I pray with them enough? Did I pray for them enough? Did I tell them enough how much they are loved, how God holds them in His hand, how amazing grace and redemption truly are? Did I enjoy them enough, or was I too preoccupied? Did I hug them, snuggle them, kiss them enough? Have I impressed upon them the joy of walking with God, or could they not see past my scowling and snarling?

Did I blow it?

In my deepest heart, I fear that I have been so concerned with raising independent kids who can take care of themselves that I took my hands off the wheel too often. That in my exhaustion, I let too many things go and dropped too many balls. I fear that by disengaging myself (my go-to method of self-preservation), I didn’t care enough.

When Meghan began middle school, this thought stopped me in my tracks: CRAP! We forgot to do Girl Scouts! She waltzed through her entire childhood without selling a single box of cookies or earning any merit badges. She’s doomed.

I’ve skipped out on eating lunch in the school cafeteria because, frankly, it’s loud and obnoxious and cafeterias still smell weird. I haven’t checked their homework or quizzed them on their weekly memory verse or chaperoned field trips. Mostly because I don’t want to. It’s not fun, it’s not convenient, and I’m busy.

And I can’t get that time back. Missed opportunities are just that: missed.

I see my girl struggling, questioning, doubting. I see how hard it is for her to love herself. And I remember what that feels like: fifteen is god-awful. I remember feeling rejected, left out, miserable. Sixteen was good. Seventeen was okay. But you couldn’t pay me enough to return to fifteen.

So I know her insecurity is not all my fault. Not entirely. Fifteen year old girls struggle, regardless. But could I have done something differently that would have made her more resilient? If I would have loved her better, would she be less afraid?

And what about the rest of my life? My friendships, my education, my (air-quotes) career, my marriage, my writing…all of these would have been-slash-could still be better if I tried harder. If I did better. If I cared more.

(As I’m writing this and silently vowing to redeem my numerous shortcomings, my fourth request to please go take a shower was ignored, as was the please sit down with us and eat your dinner and put your homework in your folder. So what did I do? Ran away and took a hot bath. Then the next morning—because a single blog post takes seventeen years to write—I get the cold shoulder and more rolling eyes and more ignoring. Whatever, man. Do whatever you want. I don’t care. Hello, disengagement, my loyal companion.)

And in coming to terms with my own insecurities and reading the brave confessions of the Sacred Scared, I’m realizing my girl will always be afraid—because who among us is not afraid? We are not alone in our fears. That truth both comforts and devastates me.

But perhaps we can throw open the heavy draperies, shouting THIS IS ME, AND I AM AFRAID, and expose those fears to light: warm, comforting, life-giving light. And when we let the light in, we find that the room is filled with fearful warriors, that we are not alone, that grace exists, that redemption—that blessed process of turning the broken into beautiful—is always the happy ending.

And, of course, I’m not done yet. I have nine and a half more years before the last chickadee leaves the nest. So today, and hopefully tomorrow, I will show up. Trembling, messy, broken; apathetic, exhausted, overwhelmed—I will push past my fear of being Not Enough. I will offer blessing and attention, speaking life into my babies, praying with them, praying for them, trusting the One who is not afraid, the One who tells me not to fear because He is with me. Because Love—strong, resilient, invigorating love—is more powerful than Fear. Because I am not alone. Because I can do hard things. Because my story, their story, your story is not finished yet.