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.

Hand holding

Hi. Remember me?

It’s been a little crazy.

We went to Italy. That was fun.

332 IMG_4835

We’re plunging head-first into the holiday season. Whoa, Nelly.

Also? Parenting a teenager is a lot like parenting a three year old. You have days of blissful joy, and moments of sheer, knock-you-flat, emotional exhaustion. That’s where I am.

I spent two transatlantic flights plus the next two weeks in October sifting through ten hours of voice memos, filling two notepads, and revising what I had already written for the book . It was exhilarating, exhausting work. I loved it.  I finally finished the book proposal and submitted it to our agent for review. Huge, huge, HUGE relief. Now we revise. And wait. And probably revise some more. And wait some more.

I want to give you a teensy-tinesy sneak peek into one of the most inspiring, profound moments of Erika’s story. A certain realization knocked me over when it made itself known to me.

Cliffs Notes Version: Erika had acute leukemia and a rare gene mutation that made her cancer more aggressive. She got the wrong chemo, and her cancer cells doubled. She got four more rounds of chemo. She needed a stem cell transplant, but her DNA markers were so narrow, she couldn’t find a match. So Erika got stem cells from an umbilical cord. Crazy, right? The transplant made her so sick and caused her so much pain, somehow she ended up in heaven. Multiple times. She walked hand-in-hand with Jesus. Then she returned to her hospital bed and kept fighting. She wanted nothing more than to be a mom to her two teenagers.

During one of her visits in heaven, Jesus carried her to a large table and set her down. Then a movie of Erika’s life played in front of her, interspersed with scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion. She fell to her knees and wept with gratitude.

OK, pause. Read the above paragraph again, slowly.

Are you picturing it? Are you there? What do you see?

Here’s what I saw, and it blew me away when I realized what I was imagining. I’m in the woods, and I see the table—big, sturdy, rough hewn wood—in the shade, set under a grove of pine trees. And Jesus is there, and I’m sitting on the table. Dark, reddish, soft dirt and pine needles cover the ground. In the near distance lies a pond with a dock. Birds in the sky. The air crisp and clean.

Much like Camp Allen, Navasota, Texas, 1984. Actually, it’s exactly Camp Allen. I could probably wander around today and find this exact spot.

My dad took my brother and me to Camp Allen several times for our church’s annual Father-Child retreat, and I attended summer camp there twice. It was here I learned “Seek Ye First,” “Pass it On” and “I Cannot Come to the Banquet.” (and if you didn’t switch up the words and sing “I have married a COW, I have bought me a WIFE…well, you weren’t with cool kids. Come to think of it, this is only offensive if you’re an adult. It was downright hilarious when I was eleven.)

Here I was introduced to the art of stepping away from everyday life and intentionally searching for the presence of God. My eleven year old heart so desperately craved meaning and spirit and acceptance, and I was still trying to figure it all out. (Um…still am.) In this quiet, secluded, gorgeous campsite, I found the first breadcrumbs on the path God was laying out for me, and I began to follow.

Thirty years later, when Erika described her visit to heaven and I subconsciously pictured the piney woods of Navasota, I realized this: Jesus was there. With me. The whole time. Wooing me, calling me, speaking tenderly over me. Holding my hand. And I didn’t even know it.

During Erika’s leukemia treatment, through all the painful tests and procedures, the horrendous experimental chemo, the devastating side effects, she would pray, “Jesus, hold my hand. Don’t let go. Please hold my hand.” When she opened her eyes in heaven, He was holding her hand.

And y’all? He’s holding your hand. He’s holding my hand. He’s right there. Whatever is going on right now, He is with you.

The omniscience and omnipresence of God blows me away. It’s so crazy. He walked with me when I was eleven, when I hardly knew Him. He walked with Erika through excruciating cancer treatment. He walks with me now when I am my teenager’s worst enemy. When Nathan is vomiting out the car window in the school parking lot (oh, yes, he certainly did.) When the people we love the most are crumbling into a miserable heap and we don’t know what to do, and we are helpless to make it better. When we are cracking under the weight of our own self-centeredness. He’s still there. Not passively observing. Not distant. He’s holding our hands.

Giving me the visual of Camp Allen is God’s cosmic VCR playing home movies of my childhood a la Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.  He’s showing me how it really was, how it is, behind the scenes.

Does that sound completely wonky? Yeah, I guess it kinda does. I’m still trying to make sense of it. It could be a weird, Freudian, subconscious piece of meaninglessness. It could only be a coincidental frame of reference.

Or maybe not.

I find God in the Bible. I find God in worship choruses. Yes.

But I also find God in Harry Potter, the GooGoo Dolls, the wind. In Michelangelo, fresh fruit, monarch butterflies, lizards.

God the Creator continues to paint his story through art and literature and nature…and imagination. He is the King of Metaphor and Allegory. He is the Master of Artistry. So if a long-forgotten memory unfolds another corner of truth for me—that could be Him, too.

My friend Deanna recently handcuffed me to a recliner and forced me to watch Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly version. (Just kidding, Dee. You know I loved it.) I am admittedly biased toward the Colin Firth BBC miniseries version, but whatever. Tomato/tomahto, Keira/Colin, it’s still a brilliant story. I re-read the novel after watching the Keira version because I was certain Wickham impregnated Georgiana, but it turns out I’m mixing up my Jane Austen narratives. (I think that was Sense and Sensibility. Obviously I possess neither.)

I really do have a point.

At the end of the book, Elizabeth and Darcy are both abundantly and deservedly ashamed of their abominable behavior during the first fifteen chapters. (Darcy deserves it; Elizabeth is only guilty of being born a century too early. OK…maybe we can fault her for a tad too much righteous indignation. I’m still on her side.) After Darcy lashes himself for his scathing letter, Elizabeth consoles him:

The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.

My years between eleven and forty are chock-full of “unpleasant circumstance.” I own scores of abominable behavior. Too many embarrassments to count, too many regrets, too many shameful moments. But God and Elizabeth Bennet shush me: Chill out. It’s over. Remember the good things; forget about the bad. Move on.

And Jesus says Doesn’t matter. I was right there with you. I never let go of your hand, even when you were a mouthy seventeen year old with enough self-righteous pride to take out a herd of antelope. I’m still holding your hand, even through the mistakes forty-five minutes ago. Let’s move on. There’s a lot more I want you to see.

So onward we go, wandering through the next campsite, stumbling over tree roots, kicking up clouds of dirt til it coats our shoes. We run, walk, meander, explore, ponder. We take sips of cool water and wipe our mouths with our sleeves. We lean against a tree to rest, feeling the crisp breeze on our foreheads, inhaling the sharp scent of pine. Then we walk again.

Hand in hand.

A dark, quiet hole away from All The Words

To all of you full-time working (as in, get a paycheck) moms: I bow down and kiss your feet.

To all the part-time working moms: You’re next.

To all of you who somehow manage to keep all the balls in the air and your children alive: You rock.

And to all of you, like me, who being created and specially wired to NEED SOME SPACE WHERE NO ONE TALKS TO YOU, yet still manage to get your work done, feed your family, and get enough sleep to where you can do it all again tomorrow: You are my heroes.

The book is under way. That is, the book proposal. This is going to be a long road, folks, but I am so excited about it. My friend and co-author, Erika, drove up from Austin last week with her mom, and the three of us spent two days recording her story. I had ordered a digital audio recorder because my last cassette player disappeared years ago. I had to stop and think about how I was going to record her voice. Motherhood, apparently, has eaten my brain.

Y’all. This story? It is un-freakin-believable. As she was talking, I kept thinking, I can’t believe you are still alive. My jaw hit the floor on Monday morning and didn’t resume its full upright position til sometime on Wednesday.

However, I grossly overestimated my ability to absorb a constant stream of words for two days and emerge semi-functional. Actually, I didn’t estimate at all. It didn’t even occur to me. I forgot I am an introvert. I forgot that while I enjoy talking and being around people, I have a limited capacity to do so, and after I do, I must retreat into a very dark, quiet hole and stay there for a very long time.

Which doesn’t work out so well when you have three children and a husband and stuff to do and phone calls to make and places to go. It really doesn’t work well when the next evening, you spend an hour with ten eighth grade girls. Who are very loud. And like to talk. And giggle. And chase rabbits far away from the Let’s Talk About Jesus path.

I missed my dark, quiet hole. Desperately.

So. Many. Words.

What’s worse: my brain was so saturated and the wheels were spinning so fast, I would fall into bed exhausted—and I couldn’t fall asleep. Oh precious sleep. I only wanted to sleep. So very badly. Cruel, cruel irony.

And then Michael left town one less person who wants to talk to me and Meghan had a full weekend of dance rehearsals and performances. I thought I was going to die if I didn’t get some peace.

I pulled out my naturopathic sleep aid, which encapsulates such glorious mysteries as valerian, passionflower, and ashwagandha . Those sound peaceful, don’t they? Like you just want to snuggle up next to them and let them brush your hair? Sweet valerian. She promised to turn off my brain and provide me a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep.

She LIED. Evil, evil, hateful valerian.

I did fall asleep. I did slumber deeply. UNTIL 4 A.M. Then I jolted awake and solved the world’s problems. For FIVE FLIPPING HOURS. (I think I dozed off briefly between American materialism and global warming.) I also had the chorus of “Thrift Shop” playing on a loop in my brain. I got twenty dollars in my pocket. This is…awesome. (You try to go back to sleep with that melody line in your head.) Macklemore left screaming when my juiced-up brain started playing an orchestral lullaby arrangement from a CD I found in a diaper bag with free baby formula samples in 1999.

Once upon a time in Texas, before Governor Rasputin decided that Six Flags should determine the school calendar instead of individual communities, we enjoyed Fall Break: a full week in October to take a family vacation while enjoying off-season crowds and prices. It was beautiful. (Except the year we took Meghan and Griffin to Disney World in the middle of Rosh Hashanah. That is another very-funny-now-but-not-at-the-time blog post for another day.)

One year, we took eight year old Meghan to Germany, where Michael’s brother was stationed with the Army. We flew into Frankfurt, took a quick nap at Uncle Harold and Aunt Stacey’s house, then drove four hours to Paris. I had never experienced such jet lag and circadian confusion. Surely I would fall into bed and go right to sleep, right? Wrong. I was awake all night. The next day, we walked the streets and museums of Paris—Paris!—for twelve hours. I was exhausted, but exhilarated. Surely that night I would sleep? Wrong again. My poor brain could not adjust. We spent another full day walking around Paris (this time riding the subways…duh!). That night, taking no chances, I greeted my new best friend, Ambien, and welcomed a full night’s blissful sleep. Problem solved.

Here’s the lesson from that vacation I have repeatedly returned to: Rest counts. Even if I am awake, closing my eyes and remaining prone still has some benefit. Otherwise I could not have endured a full day of Parisian sightseeing. Or a full day of writing, driving, cooking, talking. Rest counts. Sort of.

But limited sleep does not a happy mama make. We have had a handful of Very Scary Mama moments in the past week. My throat hurt from all the screaming. I’m not proud of it. But I think it’s highly unlikely that Nathan will refuse to take his vitamins again, and he will probably choose to answer the phone the next time I call seven times from the car to tell him I we forgot he had a piano lesson and he needed to get his books and meet me outside NOW. Which is a difficult task to accomplish if he doesn’t answer the phone. Because he’s watching TV. And the phone would stop ringing by the time he reached it. So he’d go back to watching TV. Seven times. In a row.

Which doesn’t compare to the difficulty of keeping all the balls in the air while barely functioning on five and a half hours of sleep because of All The Words. And figuring out how to fit hours of writing each week into an already full schedule.

I did eventually sleep, and I’ve started writing the book proposal, and somehow we’re all surviving. I’m no longer screaming. Mostly. I’m taking a stab at self-discipline, making myself go to bed earlier so I can write and work in the mornings instead of taking a nap. Michael, who is of course extraordinarily supportive, gently inquired where he fit into my new time-crunched schedule and how we would spend time together. I (gently) replied, “Do you remember residency?” If we could do four years of medical school, an internship, three years of residency, and one year of fellowship—and still have babies and family time and stay married—this will be a cake walk. Nothing could be as hard as that.

This is my time. It’s my turn. I finally have an opportunity to throw myself into something I love, something that matters, that makes a difference, that sends forth light and breath into the world. I’m welcoming a new passenger into the car, and somehow she will find her seat among all my other beloved passengers. She’ll squeeze in between my husband, my children, my babies. Exercise, errands, cooking, cleaning will scoot over and make room. And we will drive—a glorious, scenic, breathtaking drive. Together.

Sleep may have to move to the back.

Cray. Zee.

Our family has watched American Idol since Season 3 or so. Usually we ignore all the audition rounds and pick up somewhere in the middle of Hollywood Week, when the school of fish is filtered so only the brightest, prettiest, and most talented remain. They have huge talent—and bigger courage, exposing themselves to the merciless critiques of four industry pros and, eventually, millions of American viewers.

This season, I’ve watched with new eyes. I see the performances and, more importantly, the performers’ reactions to critique, with new understanding. Because recently, I too have been judged.

Through a divinely inspired series of circumstances, my work was placed in front of the Randy Jackson of literary agents. He is respected, successful, and tremendously honest.

And, to my shock and awe, he gave me a “Yo dawg”—the highest praise. “Amazing,” “effective,” and “humane” (which I’m assuming doesn’t mean “kind to animals”) were his exact words.

And he wants me to write a book.

Seriously. A book.

Crazy.

You have to understand: this doesn’t happen in the literary world. Usually, writers have to bust their tails to build experience and a reader base—which translates into thousands of blog followers and hundreds of comments—just to get a meeting with an agent. A writer cannot publish a word without an agent, unless she delves into the murky world of self-publishing. Having an agent is crucial to a writing career. Getting one requires more work and ambition than I am capable of.

Which is why I was drowning myself in a pit of self-loathing a few weeks ago. I know. I’m embarrassed. And I apologize for subjecting you to my pathetic despair. I had to tromp through the muck of my own self-doubt before I could reach a point of contentment. Writing is what God has told me to do, so I must do it, regardless of how many poor souls read my words.

I gave up, in the sense that I released all my expectations of a blossoming, successful career. I was wholly satisfied with knowing my work, although small in scope, was important and meaningful and full of purpose. At the moment of my release, I believe God chuckled. Finally, He must have thought. Now we’re getting somewhere. Okay. Let’s roll…

And once again, He tapped His holy baton, caught the eyes of all the musicians, and the symphony began.

Through circumstances aptly summarized in one word (CRAZY), I received SuperAgent’s request for my resume. I laughed. And then I panicked. I haven’t had a resume in sixteen years. On paper, I don’t amount to much. At least in the publishing world. But I scraped together the scant crumbs of my writing experience and sent them to his inbox, fully expecting a swift dismissal from this highly skeptical professional.

Guess what. He likes me. He really likes me. “Amazing … effective … humane.” Crazy.

And the story I’m about to tell is huge. Miraculous. Awe-inspiring. Courage-giving. I’ll be ghostwriting the medical miracle of my friend, Erika, and her journey—both physical and spiritual—through leukemia and an umbilical cord stem cell transplant. She shouldn’t be alive. In fact, she met Jesus. But she came back to us so we could hear her story, be inspired by her life, her courage, and her faith.

And I have the honor of sculpting her words on a page so the world will know.

****

I watched the American Idol judges critique Curtis Finch, Jr.’s performance later that week.

You ooze everything good and light and godly and whole and positive and … you just have so much hope in you, and we need so much of that.

This is bigger than ‘American Idol’ to me … What you do—when you make people feel good, when you make people feel powerful…that’s something that was given to you by somebody else, a higher power … you have a calling on your life to bless people and to do so much good. That’s what people need, there are people hurting out there.

Thank you for that performance … that was what I needed in my life right now… Every single thing you said…you made me feel like ‘thank you that Curtis is here tonight.’

And I watched Curtis’ face as he absorbed their praise. I understood.

I understood how hard he had worked, how many times he put himself on a stage and shared his gift, how often he pocketed the compliments of friends, family, and fans—but still wondered if he had what it takes for commercial success. I understood how he wanted his life, his gift, to make the world better, less painful, more joyous.

I understood, in that moment, how deeply he felt the words of these judges. Randy Jackson, for crying out loud. Mariah FRIGGIN Carey?! She’s saying these flattering words…about me?

Crazy.

Even if Curtis is voted off, even if this book is never published, we both had a moment when Very Important People affirmed what we had suspected, what we had been told before:

You have a gift. And it matters.

And that is enough.

Of course, I hope that the book is picked up by a major publisher and skyrockets to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. I really think it could. SuperAgent wouldn’t be willing to take on this project and guide two clueless women through the process if he didn’t think it could. It’s a great story, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Even if I’m crazy.