Signs, Strengths Finder and Sweet Surprises

Once again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. How does that happen? Oh yeah, it’s that whole working mom thing. That nine day work trip to England in October wasn’t exactly conducive to my blogging habit. Nor was the overnight Fifth Grade Camp trip I took in November, although entirely different from the business trip in every other respect. My seven-year-old’s issues continue to take a lot of time and attention even though we no longer speak of them here. And then, of course, we had the holidays, and another international trip, this time for the whole family.

One thing that’s remained constant over the past few months is the stream of signs pointing me back to this blog. For example, in October, I got a sweet email from a friend in which she encouraged me to write. She said I have a gift. I really like her. I liked that email. It made me feel super happy and special and like I should make the time to write so that others can benefit from my incredible gift. She didn’t use the word “incredible” but that’s not important. What matters is that I realized that you should not be deprived of my talent.

Speaking of talents, another affirmation came through StrengthsFinder 2.0, and its corresponding talent themes. StrengthsFinder is a methodology for identifying your natural gifts and figuring out how best to apply them in your life. You take a 177 question timed test (20 seconds per question) to determine your Top 5 talent themes. Instead of giving you common personality types that aren’t categorized as good or bad (ex. “extrovert” vs. “introvert”), StrengthsFinder hones in on your unique and specific strengths (aka talent themes). The methodology has been validated over years of research and application, across corporations around the world, as well as in other settings like churches and non-profit organizations.

Here’s the cool part. Because there are 34 different talent themes, the likelihood of two people having the same Top 5 strengths, in the exact same order, is 1 in 33 million! That means that if all 5.5 billion adults on the planet took the test, your result would only be the same as around 165 other people in the entire world. Based on this level of uniqueness, you get a “personalized” profile report that includes a description of your strengths, suggestions for action and example applications.

My StrengthsFinder results validated not only that I should write, but that I should share about my faith and focus on connection…. in other words, exactly what I try to do with this blog! My assessment specifically highlighted “my comfort with language,” “ease of written expression” and knack for “finding the right combination of words.” While not surprising, these characterizations added some needed fuel to the fire that drives me to write. The surprises in my assessment turned my creative drive back into a raging fire.

First, I learned that Connectedness, described as having faith in the link between all thingscan be viewed as an innate gift. People with this strength think there are few coincidences and that most events happen for a reason.  Apparently, this is one of my strongest gifts!

The realization that it is a natural ability to see how seemingly disparate things are connected triggered a breakthrough in how I see the value of my writing. It validates my perspective and makes me want to write all the more about how God is in everything.

What’s more, this new paradigm opened my eyes to see that when other people don’t relate, it doesn’t necessarily mean what I’ve written is wrong or bad. On the contrary, Connectedness may just not be one of the reader’s strengths. And that’s okay. It’s sort of like how, if I’m totally honest, I don’t really understand sports. I mean, I get the rules, but I just struggle to understand the point of it all. I almost always just end up rooting for the winning team. Or, if I’m really committed to a team, like of course I am to the Dallas Cowboys (go Dak!), I’ll root for them through the whole game, but if they lose, I’m not really that disappointed. I just think about how happy the other teams’ fans must be and how it all must somehow be for the greater good.

It’s not just my Connectedness talent that causes my indifference to the big game. I also lack some key talent themes that lend themselves to loving sports. Competition isn’t in my Top 5, for example. Neither is a talent theme called Positivity, described as a contagious enthusiasm. My husband’s having Positivity in his Top 5 finally explains how he stays dedicated to the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite an unprecedented number of disappointments. Or at least it helps to explain it. I’m not sure anything will ever fully explain his unwavering dedication to a team with the worst record of all time in any sport. But I digress.

The point is that it helps to think of how others might react to my blog in a similar light to how I view sports. Just like sports fans wouldn’t allow my “Oh well, it’s just a game. Maybe it was just the other team’s time.” attitude to change how heartily they root for their team, nor should they, I shouldn’t be overly impacted by those who read my blog and think “Why does she have to write about what she writes about? She’s seeing connections where there are none. Why does she over think everything so much?”

We just all have different strengths and weaknesses, and that’s okay.

Just because a reaction to my writing is less than “Wow, you have an incredible gift,” it isn’t necessarily (and most likely is not) a reflection on me. Perhaps the reader struggles to see the connections I write about because Connectedness is at the bottom of their list of strengths. And that’s okay. Or perhaps the reader just doesn’t really get the point of blogs. Maybe her Top 5 is filled with more extroverted strengths than mine, like the Woo and Communication talent themes, and she would rather be out at a party or socializing than reading an introspective piece like this. And that’s okay.

It wasn’t just my Connectedness talent theme that led me back here in some way or another. My top strength, Strategic, mostly seemed to verify that I’m in the right 9-to-5 job, but I also saw some applicability to this blog, especially when I read about the ability to recognize patterns. My third strength – Input – is a craving to know and collect more. The opportunities for action for people with this talent theme state repeatedly how important it is to share information with others. Like, you know, through a blog. Intellection, my fourth talent theme, is characterized by introspection and intellectual activity, two traits that are pretty obviously well-suited to a writer. Ideation is the last of my Top 5 and is the closest strength to creativity. It’s described as being driven by ideas.

Now, I have to say, I was honestly shocked that Ideation was in my Top 5 and Analytical was not. Analytical is more or less what it sounds like, and it’s something I’ve always identified as. I have always seen myself as one who is always questioning, analyzing, needing proof, as the talent theme says. Always good at math and logic, people still tell me regularly that I should  be a lawyer.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Analytical is my #6 talent theme, but for now, I haven’t paid for my full report and I’m not sure I’m going to. Ideation’s appearance in place of the expected Analytical has given me permission to be this blogger / writer that I want to be. It showed me how to press the stop button on some old, negative tapes that play in my head, the ones that say “Don’t forget, you were always a little bit better at math than English. You should not be writing. Why did you ever stop programming? You are wasting you gifts and should become an actuary.”

Thank God I have listened more to the more encouraging voice inside me, the one that shows me where to look for signs that I’m on the right track, that of course nothing is wasted, that it’s no surprise I started this blog. It’s just who I am. I don’t always have to understand the why and the how of it. Even if life gets in the way and forces a three month break, I should not abandon my writing.

So, here I am, back to blogging, yet again! And that’s more than okay.

(If you want to see if you have a similar journey to mine, go to this link to read more about Strengths Finder 2.0: http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx. I would love to hear about your journey!!)

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Finished is Good Enough

I have started to write many times the past couple weeks, but I just can’t seem to finish a blog post.

First, I was going to write about how my precious, anxious little boy is handling First Grade, but then I asked if he was okay with that. He said he didn’t want me to write about his issues without his permission, because, well, it was sort of private.

Then I was going to write about how my six-year-old expresses his emotions and sets boundaries better than I do, but then, well, I just really didn’t know where to go with it. It always ended up being about someone else instead of me.

Then, I was going to write about the first time I “cooked” for my husband and how inadequate I still feel in that department. I put “cooked” in quotes, because it really is a stretch to call what I did 17 years ago cooking. I put some chicken in a pot of boiling water, cardboard backing still attached, with absolutely no plan as to what to do next. We ended up ordering pizza. I have come a long way since then, but I still feel like I need a “Meal Planning for Dummies” book much of the time. But as I started to write about it, it stalled out because the direction the post was taking was too familiar.

I could see myself writing the same words I’ve written 100 times before – that it’s okay not to be perfect, that it’s okay not to be great at things other women are good at, that no matter what, we are all beautiful children of God. Of course, that’s all true, but it just seemed stale. And while I’m okay with the underlying message in every single blog post being the same – that we are all loved beyond measure and that it all comes down to God and Jesus – I’m not okay with just repeating the same words over and over. I know from personal experience how “churchy” language can lose its meaning when it’s overused. Above all, I feel called to be real when I write.

So here’s what’s real for me right now. I am overwhelmed. I really shouldn’t even be writing this blog post right now. There is so much going on at work; I can’t seem to get on top of it all. I’m even travelling to England for my job! I’m excited about the trip, but I’m also scared. This is the first time I’ve traveled for work in years. I normally work in my pajamas with no makeup on. What if I am a total failure on this trip? Even scarier, what if I’m a success? What if this is the first of many trips I am expected to take? Remember, boundaries are not my forte. I could see God setting me up with an “opportunity for growth” here – what a great way to learn to set boundaries right?

Then, there’s everything else, like being a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a friend and a neighbor and a Sunday School teacher and a home owner and … the list goes on and on. Sometimes I just want to curl up under the covers and watch a couple Lifetime movies. Last night, I actually did curl up under the covers and watch a couple Lifetime movies. (Thank God I took the boiling chicken incident as a sign that I had found the man for me and my husband continues to say “yes, let’s order pizza” when I have little meltdowns.)

The truth is, I hate admitting that I get stressed and overwhelmed like this, because I don’t want to come across as an ungrateful brat. I mean, how can I ever complain about anything when I have such an amazing life. So many people would give everything to have what I have – two healthy and wonderful children, a great job, a fantastic family, incomparable friends, a beautiful home, the opportunity to teach Sunday School … the list goes on and on. I haven’t even mentioned my dog. I have SO much love in my life! My cup overflows, and yet, there are times, I can hardly even stand to be in the present moment, because I am so stressed and overwhelmed.

I could probably look back at ten of my previous blog posts and copy over the last couple paragraphs to end this post with a neat little bow. I’m sure things I’ve written before would apply here beautifully – how we are all “perfectly imperfect,” how it all comes down to irrational fear and that fear is tackled best by praying, writing or talking with a friend. All of those things are true. But here are some other, not quite as neatly packaged things that have been helping me lately:

  • Mantras – I say something like what is below over and over again in my head.

          I trust God with everything, I trust God with everything.
          Don’t think, just do. Don’t think, just do. Don’t think, just do.
         Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

  • Really, Really, Really Detailed Lists and Schedules – This week, I seriously could only get focused and get anything done when I took the time to actually plot out in five-minute intervals what I was going to do.
    • 10:05-10:10 – Send email to so and so about topic A.
    • 10:10-10:15 – Schedule meeting about topic B.
  • “Next Right Thing” Sticky Notes – I’ve heard for a while now that when you are stressed or overwhelmed, you should just do the “next right thing,” and I love this idea. However, sometimes, there are just SO many “next right things.” When I feel paralyzed by all the choices, I will write a few options down on sticky notes and then randomly pick one. Right now, no joke, I have the following sticky notes on my desk:

                Shower
                Clean
                Work

A few months ago, I was at a talk with Elizabeth Gilbert where she said if you can’t finish something, give yourself permission to do a bad job at it. This has helped me SO much. I now say things to myself all the time like “You have permission to just do a terrible job at dinner tonight” or “I want you to go ahead and send this email even if it’s just awful.” When my perfectionist tendencies kick in (in other words, always), this is the only way I can actually get anything done. Including this blog post.

School Can’t Start Soon Enough

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about The Sisterhood’s motto “No Matter What … Love.” So many pictures come to mind when you think about that pesky word Love. Often, it’s that desperate, perfect connection with another human being that we see in movies like The Notebook. Could there be a more perfect soul mate than Ryan Gosling? I mean, I really, truly believe my husband is the perfect soul mate for me, but still. It’s Ryan Gosling. I’m just sayin’.

My relationship with my husband doesn’t always look like what you might see in the movies, but when you look closely, you’ll see that it is so much better. It’s real and messy and beautiful and OURS. At our wedding, one of our readings was from my favorite chapter in the Bible on the meaning of love. Even if you have never stepped foot in a church, chances are you’ve heard this particular passage from the 2 Corinthians. It starts “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” It continues with about ten more short sentences about love, the last of which is “Love never fails.” You’ve probably heard these verses at multiple weddings, maybe even your own. But have you really thought about what they mean, not just in terms of how you love your spouse or significant other, but in terms of how you love everyone, every day?

I can’t even get past the first two phrases when I consider this broadened perspective. Of course I “love” my children, but how can anyone who hears “I’m hungry” 272,683 times a day be patient or kind? My little people torture me with those two dreaded words from the minute they wake up until the second their heads hit their pillows. My son even uttered it one time mid-bite. Really?? You are eating dinner. You are about to put a piece of food in your mouth. Do not tell me that you are hungry!

For everyone’s safety, I have delegated the parenting to the impatient, irritable version of myself, at least until school starts. Thankfully, that’s only a few days away now!

Snarly, Sarcastic, Snappy Melissa also fills in often at work, in my marriage, and when dealing with other people in general. I can’t lie – this alter ego amuses me. Sometimes I just want to let her take over completely! But then, I see the looks in my kids’ eyes when I snap at them. Or I experience the consequence of reacting at work with a biting quip, instead of from a place of patience and tolerance.

Truth be told, I want to love better.

So I’m taking a new look at these verses. Instead of just a beautiful poem to be recited over happy brides and grooms, I am going to try to transform these words into a playbook for all of my relationships. I am meditating on these words in a new way. When my son is still buckled in his car seat even though I’ve asked him to get out of the car five times, instead of yelling, I say to myself “Love is patient, Love is kind.” When I show up for Meet the Teacher at 8:20am, because I thought it was from 7:30-9:30am instead of 7:30-8:30am, and then, as I’m running from room to room, realize I have forgotten the cash that I need to pay for the extra set of pre-packaged school supplies available only to those irresponsible moms who forgot to order them in the Spring, I think of these words to remember to be patient and kind with myself. My mantra becomes “Love is patient, love is kind. Love nevers fails.”

I can’t believe the power in these words. Even though I’ve read them many times, I’m realizing through them on a deeper level what it means to rely on God. When we turn to God and accept Jesus as our savior, it means we never have to worry about failing again. Love never fails, which ultimately means that I never fail. I never fail, because Jesus already succeeded at the only contest that matters. Because He already conquered death and sin, NO MATTER WHAT I do, I cannot fail. Wow. That’s awesome.

Monday morning, as I’m getting the kids ready for the first day of school, I hope I can keep these words in the forefront of my mind. As many of you know, to say I’m not a morning person doesn’t even begin to cover it. There is no doubt Monday is going to be tough! But even if I don’t get the kids a perfectly balanced, healthy breakfast, even if we are running behind, even if nothing goes according to plan, Love is patient, Love is kind. With God’s help, I never fail.

Who knows, maybe next week, after we get past the first few days of earlier mornings, I’ll even move past the first line of the passage below and take on envy and pride!

“Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”

2 Corinthians 13:4-8

Humbled at McDonald’s in Canada

We are currently on vacation in my husband’s home country of Canada. And even though I’ve been here many times, there are still a few things that catch me off guard on every visit. For one thing, the Great Lakes are really, very great. How foolish I must have sounded when I asked my then-boyfriend if he had ever been to the beach, and then presumed to tell him it didn’t count because it wasn’t the ocean! The little island we went to on this trip had a sandy beach facing Lake Ontario. As I looked out at the endless water and watched the waves roll in, I was just as serene as I was last summer when we went to a “real” beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

This isn’t the only thing about Canada that humbles me. Every time I do the dishes here, I remember how most people do not have garbage disposals. It’s just not an appliance that has ever caught on here. People could afford them; they just don’t see the need. New homes don’t come with them installed. Apartments and townhouses don’t have them. But back when I was a know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old who discounted her boyfriend’s beach experiences, I also refused to accept the reality about garbage disposals and Canada. Surely, there was some sort of mistake, I thought. Maybe I just needed to say the right word – it’s “garburator” in Canadian, not “garbage disposal,” after all. And so, when I moved to Canada, I insisted we call every apartment complex remotely close to Toronto and ask if they had a unit for rent with a garburator. As you probably guessed, the answer was always the same. Flushing my cereal down the toilet and scraping plates into the trash weren’t totally new to me. I’d been to many countries before and even lived in France. I just had it in my head that the differences between Canada and the United States were not quite as big as this. As it turns out, the differences between our two incredible countries aren’t so big. Shockingly, a garbage disposal really isn’t an absolute necessity.

I’m not sure how something so small ended up becoming a catalyst for me to open my mind to new things and different ideas more readily, but it did. For years, if someone said something to me that seemed odd or different or unthinkable, I would just remember that life without a garbage disposal used to seem odd and different and unthinkable. Then I lived without one for three years and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. My husband used to think it odd and different and unreasonable to insist, like I had, that a garburator hold the same level of importance as a refrigerator. Now that he has lived in the US for twelve years, he finds it odd and different and unreasonable for someone to live without one.

The truth is most things are only odd or different or unreasonable when they are foreign. Once you get closer, you see a bigger picture that almost always changes your perspective. You realize you’ve been looking through a mirror like the one on your car that says “objects are closer than they appear.” Life in Canada seemed so familiar I just assumed I fully understood it, but the truth is I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. We make judgments all the time based on a warped view of the world. Things, or people, or races, or religions, seem just familiar enough that we think we can judge the differences we seem to perceive. But when we stop to listen to each other and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we see that so much lies beneath the surface.

Back to our visit in Canada, as always, we went to McDonald’s for lunch one day. Before we went, we talked about how McDonald’s is different in other countries. I didn’t want the kids to overreact when they saw, for example, that in Canada, apple slices still have skin on them. But just when I was patting myself on the back for how enlightened and open-minded I am, five dreaded words betrayed me. They just spilled out before I could do anything about it. It was like I was in slow motion. I recognized what was about to happen but could do nothing to stop it. I meant to ask the cashier what came with a happy meal. Or what kind of kids’ meals they had. Or if the happy meals came with a burger, fries and a side like in the United States. But, no, instead, I said “Do you have normal happy meals?”

I was embarrassed before I finished the question. How could I have asked if the happy meals were “normal”!? I cannot identify any part of me that thinks in any way that anything is less “normal” in Canada than in the US, and yet, those words came out of my mouth! Of course, I had to make it worse by explaining that we were from the States. As if the sweet teenager taking our order hadn’t figured that out. What a great way for me to reinforce stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans! Of course I would think our way of doing things is “normal” and everyone else’s is “abnormal,” right?

After I got over my embarrassment, I laughed and lightened up and realized (again) that we are all just flawed human beings. The best thing we can do is listen to each other respectfully and then cut each other some slack. I sure hope that cashier does not honestly think I am so arrogant that I really consider only my experience to be “normal.” I hope she gave me the benefit of the doubt and realized I was just thinking about what is “normal” to me and didn’t mean the question the way it sounded.

As a society, we are so often and easily offended by innocent words that are not meant to injure but just represent a different perspective.

Words matter.
But more than words, intentions matter.
And more than anything, grace matters.

We have to extend each other grace to blunder and bludgeon through each day, because we also must rely on grace. We are all imperfect creatures in need of God’s perfect love and the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this amazing grace, I am often humbled but never humiliated. Even as an American in Canada!

(As it turns out, in Trenton, Ontario, a “normal” happy meal comes with only one side. You get fries or apples, but not both. Also, the fountain drink cup is significantly smaller than the one you would get if you were to order a “normal” happy meal from a McDonald’s in Plano, Texas.)

Confessions of a Sporadic Church Going Jesus Freak

I have a confession to make.

Until this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in a while. Like, since April.

I love God. I love Jesus. I pray many times every day. I just took an unplanned, extended leave of absence from church.

And that’s not even what I need to confess!

What I need to confess is that I really worry what you think about it.

Even though I have worked hard to shake this whole people-pleasing character defect, I still really feel the need to please you. And so, I have to come out publicly (or at least on this blog) about my sporadic church attendance. I need to risk your disapproval so I can remember I only need God’s approval.

It all started with Love Lives Here Plano – you may remember I had a mental breakdown via blog post about this (https://seeingthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/love-lives-here/).

Well, the event turned out beautifully. Don’t get me wrong. None of our difficulties magically disappeared. The biggest room in the building we rented, where we had originally planned to have our evening program, ended up closed off due to low attendance. And we still haven’t figured out how to fully reconcile the budget, although God has worked some pretty awesome miracles in that area.

The bottom line though is that Love Lives Here Plano was perfectly imperfect and just what it was supposed to be. Even though a few of the workshops had to be cancelled, those that did go on as planned exceeded expectations. One workshop leader even thanked me for allowing her to participate in such a special event. She made a point to tell me how amazed she was at the honesty and transparency in her small group. The attendees echoed the speaker and shared that the workshops had a deep impact on their lives. I wonder if I would have these kinds of observations if each workshop had 30-40 women instead of 10-15.

Despite an ad on a major radio station, our vendors did not see hundreds and hundreds of women, but they were all (well, almost all) happy to be there. About half way through my obligatory purchase and apology to each proprietor, I realized it really wasn’t necessary. They understood you don’t always get the turnout you expect, and they all made sales. Even if it wasn’t what they’d hoped for, when I got out of my own way, I saw that they really were happy to be there. Most of them made significant connections with other vendors and participants that have continued to thrive and contribute to their business and personal growth well past the event.

The evening program was honestly one of the highlights of my life. Around eighty-five women total came, fifteen with free tickets we gave to a local crisis center. Serving these women was an unexpected blessing. As the keynote speaker, I delivered a twenty-minute speech and then led the participants in an interactive activity where everyone wrote at least one thing she wanted to let go of on a paper heart. Each table then ripped up their paper hearts and taped them onto a large puzzle piece. Volunteers gathered the puzzle pieces, and we fit them together on a large poster board at the front of the room. The end result was a picture of a large heart with a cross in the middle – a powerful visual that showed that when we give God our hearts, even when they are in broken pieces, He uses them to create something more beautiful and incredible than we can imagine.

When I gave my speech, I had one of those moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I knew it was good. I knew God was there. It was confirmed in my heart that speaking is one of my gifts. Afterwards, I got nothing but positive feedback – everyone said I was funny and had a good sense of timing. Many people came up to me in tears. Several of the aforementioned vendors, many of whom originally intended to come to Love Lives Here only to sell a product, were among the most moved. One woman just kept repeating the word “phenomenal.” I knew in that moment this would not be the last time I would stand up in front of a group and say similar words of encouragement, and I have already had the opportunity to speak part of the speech again.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my break from church. Well, even though Love Lives Here came off beautifully, it still left me exhausted. And while that’s not an excuse to skip church, it is the first domino in a chain of events, emotions and thoughts that led me to where I am right now.

There were many things in my life that needed attention after being somewhat or a lot neglected while I had put on this event. I felt like I had been living a pretend life. Then, the week after the event, we got the call from my son’s teacher that turned our world upside down. All of a sudden, I went from event manager, public speaker and writer to mom of a “special needs” child. I thought this was God’s way of telling me to just let go of this dream. I couldn’t possibly have this extracurricular passion in addition to a full time job, marriage and children, especially now that one of those kids had to be carted around regularly to therapists and specialists. I couldn’t possibly spend time writing and speaking when clearly, I needed to spend any free time I had becoming an expert on neurological issues in children.

I now realize that God is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Of course, He would not put it in my heart to write and speak if I couldn’t somehow manage it along with everything else. In fact, He usually picks people who seem least able to do what He asks so that all the credit and glory goes to Him!

Nonetheless, for a while, I got lost. I fell into a depression that impacted more than just my church-going. If you read my blog regularly, you would have noticed there was a big gap in original posts between April and July.

I am excited to report that I went to church this past Sunday, and that I will be a regular attendee next year, as the Fifth Grade small group leader. I know that I belong in regular worship with a community of believers. We are not meant to do this thing called life and faith by ourselves. I have not been convicted that my sporadic church attendance qualifies as “sin,” but nonetheless I have asked for God’s forgiveness and am back in the habit. What God has convicted me of is that I really need to work on my continued obsession with how you perceive me. I was starting to feel like I had a dirty, little secret from my Christian friends, and I’ve learned the hard way that secrets are bad.

In closing, I really want to ask you to please not judge me, but well, that would just be perpetuating the problem. So please judge me all you want. I need to learn that your judgment is not what matters. I’m wearing a shirt I got at Love Lives Here that says “He Loves Me,” and that is all that matters.

Progress Not Perfection

Someone asked me a couple days ago if my son was getting “better,” and I couldn’t articulate an answer. My first thought was no, but then I realized that I had completely forgotten (again) a fundamental truth – success is best measured in terms of “progress not perfection.”

Will’s biggest issue right now is that he is afraid to be alone.  All I have to do to know if there is progress in this area is to look at his “experience points.”

Daddy came up with the brilliant idea of experience points. Will earns them when he does things by himself. To be clear about what this means, I need to explain a bit more what Will is and is not afraid of. He doesn’t fear being left alone nor does he have “separation anxiety.” He is actually quite comfortable in a sea of strangers and even has a tendency to wander off in public. Like those few terrifying moments we lost sight of him at Disneyworld. Or like when he was four and we were paged at the airport. Or like last week, when I almost had to page him at Walmart until running around like a crazy person screaming his name finally did the trick. We are always very emotional over these experiences, but Will is usually just startled and confused as to what all the fuss is about.

I asked him last week how he could be so far away from me at a store but can’t leave my side at home. He explained matter-of-factly that he could see other people at the store, but at home, he can’t see anyone. This was a big “aha” moment for me. Will’s fear isn’t being away from a familiar face, it’s being away from any face. Or any voice, come to think of it. He can stay calm if he can’t see me as long as I talk or sing non-stop. I guess that’s the only way he absolutely knows I’m still near.

Basically, my almost-seven year old is terrified of being physically in a space where he cannot see or hear another human being. Even if he knows someone is just in the next room, that knowledge isn’t enough to provide the comfort he needs to face his phobia. And without that comfort, all hell breaks loose.

When Will gets in a place where his fear takes over, he completely loses it. He sobs uncontrollably. He screams as if he’s trapped in a container with spiders, or snakes, or something equally terrifying. Eventually, he turns red and hyperventilates. I ask him what he is afraid of and he doesn’t know. When he calms down, I try to talk to him about why he got so afraid, but he just says “Mommy, you know I’m afraid to be alone” like he’s telling me something that everyone in the world knows about Minecraft. He owns his fear without any shame.

In his therapy sessions, he talks about how the toilet overflowed once. About how the Xbox overheated and make a loud noise a few months ago. This seems to imply he is afraid there will not be an adult around to help him if there is a big problem.

But why would he not be comfortable when he knows that I am literally 20 feet away? Just because he can’t see or hear me, why would he think that he might end up unable to call on me for help?

We have never left him alone in the house. We have never given him any reason to think for one second that we might leave him alone in the house. We have never been unreachable in the house for a long period of time. Or for any period of time. We have never played hide and seek and hid in a really hard place. I just don’t get it.

After we saw a couple of his epic meltdowns, we gave in to his requests for someone to be with him. We hoped his anxiety was a phase that would pass, and that seemed to be the case last year when we got a brief reprieve. All of a sudden, he had no issue going to the bathroom by himself or playing upstairs by himself. Even sleeping by himself wasn’t a consistent issue.

But then, for some unknown reason, it all came back with a vengeance. Now we don’t indulge his every request. If he has to go to the bathroom, he will do the “pee pee dance” for hours just so he doesn’t have to go by himself. When someone happens to walk the same way as the bathroom, he takes the opportunity to go, hoping it means that person will stay close while he does his business.

We’ve been working really hard to get him to sleep in his own bed. Right now we are on “phase 3,” which means someone stays in his room until he’s all the way asleep but doesn’t spend the night. It’s not quite going how I thought it would. Every night, Will wakes up screaming bloody murder because he’s alone. Every night, he wakes up his sister with his cries, she becomes beyond irritated, and we are all up well before Will finally busts into our room and climbs into our bed. I think it’d almost be better if there was a monster in his room, because then at least he would have someone in there with him.

Back to the experience points, Will has been earning them for about three weeks now. Going to the bathroom when Mommy is in the kitchen earns 1,000 points. Going upstairs to get something while everyone else is downstairs earns 2,000. You get the idea. He now has 27,000 experience points.

So even though some things are not going exactly as I had envisioned them, there IS progress. What’s more, this weekend we were all outside swimming when I looked up and saw Will coming outside with a drink. He had gone inside all by himself and gotten a drink, without even batting an eyelash. That is HUGE progress!

So often I forget to look for progress and only focus on perfection. I’m grateful today to be reminded once again that, at least while we’re here on earth, progress is all there is and all that matters. Sometimes progress is slow, but it’s still progress.

I pray regularly for Will, for God to relieve his fear and give him a spirit of strength instead. But I have to remember to thank God for the progress. And I have to remember that God’s timing isn’t always my timing. Most importantly, I have to remember that God doesn’t always completely remove all of our fears, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My fears give me depth, and they help me relate to and help others. Most importantly, my fears and insecurities bring me to my knees on a regular basis where I always find God waiting for me. And that in and of itself is a beautiful thing. Will might just have a similar journey.

So from now on, here is my prayer for Will:

God,

Thank you for my sweet son. Thank you for how much he has grown. May his steps today be part of the journey you have set before him. May he make progress in facing his fears at your perfect pace.

As his mother, show me how best to guide him. Show me when to listen and comfort and then give me the strength to trust my gut. Show me when to push and be stern and then give me the strength to follow through. Above all, Thy will be done.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

Thoughts after the Dallas Shootings

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been reminded this past week how much one voice can matter. And so I add my voice. I started by sharing some of this post in a prayer on Facebook. Now it’s time to go deeper.

With every shooting that has rocked our world, I have felt horrible talking about my own feelings. Even given how close to home the Dallas shootings a week ago were, I still felt like anything I said would just seem shallow. Any expression of horror, grief, shock or sadness seemed like it would just be an insult to those who were truly grieving the loss of loved ones and reeling from unspeakable injustices. Any message about faith seemed even more offensive somehow. After all, in Proverbs 25:20, it says that “singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking away someone’s coat in cold weather.” So I stayed silent, except for the occasional “Pray for fill-in-the-blank” temporary Facebook profile picture or status share.

But I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of just sharing things other people have said. I’m tired of empty words. I’m tired of trying to process a day’s news of people dying in shootings in this country only to turn on the news and see another shooting has occurred. I’m tired of living in a country where we have all come to accept that horrific, almost daily shootings are the status quo. I’m tired of seeing my symbol of freedom and equal opportunity diminished – honestly, it surprises me more to see an American flag that is NOT at half mast these days.

We live in a world where it’s sometimes hard to speak up. Whatever you say is permanently memorialized on the internet. Anything that shows any remote insensitivity or lack of understanding of all the complex nuances behind an issue is exploited. Words are twisted. Taken out of context. Instead of assuming the best in people, we so often assume the worst. Instead of listening to each other, we talk over each other. Contempt prior to investigation becomes our modus operandi. I admit that I am as guilty as the next person.

But just because something is hard doesn’t make it unworthy. Right now, more than ever, I believe we all have to speak up, no matter how difficult it is. ALL of our voices matter. Black. White. Police. Civilian. Christian. Muslim. Man. Woman. Victim. Observer. Republican. Democrat. Independent. We must speak our truths with each other in a loving, honest way and then listen to each other to break down the walls and self-imposed divisions that would seem to separate us. We all have a role to play in driving out this darkness.

As people of faith, our voices are especially critical. We can drown out the angry, hateful voices with words that show love and forgiveness instead of hate and revenge. We saw that happen in Charleston. We are seeing it now in Dallas. Two thousand years ago, we saw the ultimate example of it when Jesus Christ suffered violence and death on a cross. Instead of repaying the injustice done to him with more violence, He responded with forgiveness and love. As His children, we must do the same. We cannot afford to stay out of the fray in fear that we will risk offending someone or politicizing our faith. We must not stay completely silent out of fear that we won’t have the perfectly right words.

It really doesn’t have to be so complicated. My aunt published a story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” many years ago where she said the best thing we can say to each other in times of sorrow is often just a simple “I love you.” Dallas Police Chief David Brown sure understood this when he recited all of the lyrics from Stevie Wonder’s “I’ll Be Loving You Always” as his address to the families of the slain police officers. President Obama understood it when he asked us all to pray for God to give us new hearts to replace our hearts of stone.

We don’t have to perfectly understand every person’s mourning to say “I love you.” We don’t have to agree with every word our neighbor says to love him. Love is not the same as acceptance. To love someone is just to recognize that he or she is lovable. And in that way, we are all the same.We are all lovable. ALL of us. Even ISIS terrorists. Even the murderer of the five police officers in Dallas. While that may sound shocking, if we as Christians believe what we say we do, it is the truth.

Jesus didn’t just die for the “good” people. If anyone comes to Him and repents of his sins, He will redeem that person and flood him with His love. Just look at the writer of much of the New Testament. Paul, formerly known as Saul, started out his life as a mass murderer. The Bible says he went from home to home, dragging out Christians to be executed. He may not have been the person who actually pulled the trigger, but he was more than an accomplice. He was a terrorist. A bigot. But God sought him anyway. God loved him anyway. God saw that he was lovable and redeemed him with His grace. If God saw a Christian-killer as lovable, who are we to see anything less in each other?

This doesn’t mean that I think we shouldn’t pursue justice or that we shouldn’t protect ourselves. There is evil in this world. It would be naïve to think otherwise. But it is also naïve to think that we are somehow made different by the color of our skin, our religious upbringing or our political affiliation. We are not. We are all the same. We are ALL flawed. We are all human. And yet somehow, we are all  lovable.

To let someone know that he is lovable is a powerful thing. I know from personal experience. A couple nights ago, when I was putting my almost ten-year-old daughter to bed, she commented on how much I had said things lately that mirrored her thoughts. She remarked how alike we were. I said that I hoped we were, because I loved how her mind worked and that it would be a huge compliment to me if we were the same.

She then said “Well, I am clumsy.”

Ouch. I asked her if “clumsy” was the adjective that came to mind as the best word to describe me. And that’s when she said it. She said the word she would use to best describe me is “lovable.”

She caught me by complete surprise with that word, and in that moment, I felt incredible. If I have a moment of self-doubt, I think back to her saying those words and then I repeat them. They are everything. I’m lovable. I’m lovable. I’m lovable.

Lovable is a word that I would never have thought of to describe myself, or really anyone. And yet it’s the perfect word. It’s the word we need right now, at this point in our history.

Like so many others in my community and around the world, my heart is broken for the five police officers who died last Thursday. More than that, my heart is broken for our broken world.

And yet I honestly have hope for the first time in a long time because of what I see happening around me. I’ve never been prouder of my city. From the mayor to the police chief to the doctors at Parkland, the list of people who are not only speaking but demonstrating barrier-breaking love and humility goes on and on and on. Through their actions, I see the truth, and I have hope. My prayer is that we continue to see and express this unbelievable truth.

We are all lovable.