Definitely Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

This week’s Fifth grade Sunday school lesson focuses on the importance of God’s word. We will each get ten paper rectangles to record the things we take time to learn about. Then, each of us will use our rectangles to build a pyramid of our priorities. I’m calling it the Personal Priority Pyramid, or PPP for short. Even though we will write down different interests and subjects, the exercise is intended to show that we should still all have the Bible at the top of our PPPs. I’m supposed to make it personal by sharing about a time when God’s word wasn’t at the top of my PPP and how that wreaked havoc in my life until I reprioritized.

I’m pretty sure this week’s lesson has brought about more growth in me than it will in the Fifth grade girls I’ll be teaching!

It’s not really the lesson itself that stirs up uneasiness within me, or at least, not the lesson as it appears at face value. Sharing about something personal certainly doesn’t cause me any turmoil. I’m more or less an open book. And it’s super easy to think of a time in my life that pertains to the lesson, so that’s not the opportunity for growth.

It took me a while to realize that the reason this lesson makes me uncomfortable is not because it’s not true, but because I so often fall short at remembering it. The experience that jumps to the front of my mind is from twenty years ago if that tells you anything. When I was in college, my area of expertise somehow all of a sudden became entirely about food and exercise. I could tell you how many calories and fat grams were in EVERYTHING, how much and what type of exercise would burn off those calories and fat grams, and exactly what I had eaten every day for the past month. Today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone, last Wednesday. But the devil had a firm grip on me, and it took everything I had to find release. I started taking anti-depressants. I went to therapist after therapist. I went to church. I sang in a choir. I gave up caring about food or weight and ordered pizza. But most importantly, I read the Bible. God led me to His word and guided me through it during that difficult time like He never had before.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve felt that connected to the Bible since then.

I want to say this lack of connection is all related to the fact that God has filled me in other ways these past couple decades – through the Holy Spirit, through relationships and community, through inspirational Christian speakers and authors, through prayer, through writing and speaking. But the truth is that I’m also – mostly – at fault. The only other time I’ve tried to read the Bible all the way through, I stopped in Isaiah – in other words, before the hero of the story was even born. Whenever I’ve done Bible studies, I’ve tried to recreate my university experience, going to the same passages and books that moved me then. When I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings I got in college, instead of realizing I’m just no longer the same kid who needed a sound, theological proof like the one laid out in Romans, and I should perhaps have picked a different book to study, I just get frustrated and decide the Bible and I just need a little distance from each other.

Of course, I still read the Bible. It’s just really not at the top of my PPP. It’s not the thing I prioritize most to learn about.  I certainly don’t spend as much time in God’s word as I do checking Facebook or the Daily Mail. The non-fiction book I read a little bit of every night is a parenting book, not my Bible. The information I dive into daily, after having perhaps glanced at a verse in a devotional, is my work email inbox.

It’s hard to admit how much the Bible has taken a backseat lately. It makes me feel unfit to lead this week’s lesson. And yet, it actually makes me more fit. Ironically, I know this because my favorite Bible verse tells me so. Of course, that isn’t really ironic, since the Bible truly is the most important book of all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end this post with a Bible verse when I started it, but as always, with God, you have to expect the unexpected.

You see, in His usual fashion, God waited until I was in complete surrender and admitted my weakness before He reminded me that I’ve not been quite so disengaged from His word. In fact, the Bible verse that finally filled me with the assurance that I am more than fit to teach these Fifth grade girls is one that just came to life a couple years ago. It has touched my soul a thousand times recently and let me know that I am okay just as I am, warts and all. For Jesus assures us all that His grace is sufficient. Not only should I not be ashamed when I teach on Sunday, I should share about my weakness, knowing that God’s power will be even more perfect because of it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I pray that I will remember this verse on Sunday and that I can give these girls a real example of what it means to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean we always have to perfectly follow all the rules we learn at church. In fact, it means the opposite – that we have admitted and surrendered in the deepest parts of our souls that we are utterly incapable of living flawless lives. Christ’s light and all of our need for Him shine all the more brightly when we stop thinking we need to be perfect, little Christians and remember that being a Christian has one and only one stipulation – to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

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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.

From One “Good Mom” to Another

When my babies were born, I was one of those moms who just instantly felt comfortable. Instead of being crippled by worry about the baby or insecurity over my parenting skills, I was at total peace. Nobody was more surprised by my natural maternal instincts and calm demeanor than I was, especially considering how clueless I had been before. At my baby showers, it was actually comical how many gifts were met by my blank stare. Seriously though, why do so many things need to be warmed? Can I get a towel warmer for when I get out of the bath please?

As my kids grew older, my smugness and comfort with motherhood went out the window. All of a sudden, these babies that I knew how to take care of turned into actual people. They had their own personalities! They had their own thoughts. And those thoughts weren’t restricted to to “Give me your boob!” and “Change my diaper.” I know this, because they actually starting speaking their thoughts. OUT LOUD. I had NO idea how to even talk to these little creatures, let alone “raise” them, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

By the time my oldest started school, I was a hot mess as a mother. I questioned everything I did. I always thought I was somehow doing it wrong. I’d look at what all the other moms were doing and try to emulate them – all of them. If neighbor Suzy was using a behavior chart to mete out rewards, then we would get some poster board and create a behavior chart. If fellow room mom Cindy limited her children’s screen time, then we needed to limit screen time, and in the exact same way.

As you can imagine, it was quite impossible to do every single thing that every other mom around me was doing. It’s no wonder I was always falling short in my own mind and felt exhausted from all of the “mom guilt.”

A good friend of mine at the time had four children, ranging in age from five to fifteen. She was one of those “good moms” I was always trying to copy. When she came over with her kids and actually made them wait the recommended fifteen minutes after applying sunscreen (who knew?), a piece of me died inside because my kids were already swimming. Once again, that voice in my head told me this was just one more piece of evidence that I was a failure as a mom.

My perfect sunscreen-applying mentor challenged me to write about what I thought it meant to be a “good mom” as a way to work through my insecurity. I hand wrote out a first draft of my assignment, making sure I didn’t leave any behavior or attitude out. After all, this was going to become my playbook, or so I thought. I edited it, revised it, perfected it and admired it. I felt like I was back in middle school as I hand wrote the final version, like I was turning in a paper for an important grade. Then came the time to review the three-page single-spaced diatribe with Super Mom. I was so proud of myself, and I just knew she would be too! My essay describing a “good mom” was no doubt going to gain her approval as the perfect set of objectives.

I proudly read to her how “good moms” make sure their kids eat healthy, go to bed at a decent time, pray regularly and go to church. I explained that a “good mom” listens to her children, teaches them right from wrong and makes sure they bathe regularly. A “good mom” always sets a good example for her children, sets appropriate limits and helps them to become their best selves. She always sees the good in her children, never pushes too hard and is herself a “good” sister, daughter, Christian, wife, employee, member of society, and of course, she somehow manages to take care of herself as well. It took a while to get through it all.

When I was done, I looked up beaming, expecting my mentor to praise my efforts. I was seriously shocked to get an entirely different reception. All she said was “Wow. No wonder you never feel like you’re a good mom.” but the look on her face said it all. I did not get an “A” on this assignment after all. I had not hit the mark. My expectations of myself, even after I thought I had narrowed them down, were still way too high. I needed to scale back my definition of a “good mom” WAY more before I was even in the right ballpark. She suggested I think more in terms of the basic “essence” of what makes a good mom.

I was dumbfounded. How could I have so misunderstood the assignment? Isn’t it good that I got specific? What exactly did she have a problem with, I wanted to know. Isn’t it good to have high standards? Why shouldn’t I set the bar high for myself? Maybe instead of saying it was a description of a “good mom” I could just rename it to be my “ideal for parenting” and we could quit talking about it already.

But she wouldn’t drop it. When I argued, she argued back.

“You talk a lot about how one of the most important aspects of being a ‘good mom’ is leading your child to know God and specifically, the Christian faith. Does that mean that a Jewish mom is a ‘bad mom’?”

Well, no. Of course not. A Jewish, or Muslim, or Atheist for that matter, can still be a very good mom. I could think of examples of people I knew in all those categories immediately.

“What about the bathing thing? My youngest daughter absolutely detests baths, and I can’t remember the last time she got one. It seriously may have been a month. Does it make me a ‘bad mom’ that she doesn’t take a bath every night?”

This was really rather shocking to hear, but even with the knowledge that it may very well have been a month since one of her daughters had bathed, there was still no question in my mind that Super Mom actually was a super mom.

I thought about what it means to be a “good mom” some more. I prayed about it. I licked my wounds. I read The Glass Castle, a book that was recommended to me that tells a story of a far-from-perfect mom who ends up shaping her daughter into an incredible woman, because of both her weaknesses and her strengths. I thought about how the most “perfect” mom can end up with daughters who struggle with perfectionism their whole lives trying live up to her. And then, finally, one day, I realized Super Mom was right. I needed to seriously cut myself some slack.

And I was set free as a mom.

Here’s my new version of what it means to be a “good mom”:

  • Love unconditionally
  • Encourage your children to be themselves
  • Set limits
  • Teach
  • Try to be the best role model you can be
  • Trust your gut instincts
  • Know your children ultimately belong to God

This list was met with a very different reaction from my friend, but honestly, it didn’t even matter. I no longer cared what she thought. Through the journey, I had come into a new self-confidence that has yet to be shaken, even though it’s been several years since this exercise.

At the end of every day, if I can honestly look at the list above and say that I did my best trying to do those simple things, I know I am a good mom. No matter how many days it’s been since the last bath. No matter if we talked about God or prayed together. No matter when bed time ended up being. No matter how many cookies were eaten.

Even on days when the kids fall asleep in their clothes, without brushing their teeth, in my bed, after having swum immediately after applying sunscreen (gasp), I’m still a good mom.

Being a mom is hard. A lot of blogs have been written about how we all need to quit judging each other, but I think the real problem for most of us is how hard we are on ourselves.

If you’re struggling today with whether you’re a good mom, let me be the mom to help you simplify your expectations of yourself.

Do you love your child unconditionally, just as he or she is?

You’re a good mom.

Do you do your best to set limits and/or teach your child, even if things don’t always go exactly as planned?

You’re a good mom.

Are you trying your best and trusting your gut, even if it means doing something you swore you would never do before you had kids?

You’re a good mom.

We have so much less control than we often think we do. Let’s not spend the precious moments we have with our children worrying that we aren’t good enough. Today, I know I’m a good mom. Join me and let yourself off the hook too. You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

Secret #6: Be Present

Ironically, this post about being in the current moment is something I wrote six months ago. Our computer crashed (again) last month, and this time, I lost some of my writing that was just in MS Word documents. Hopefully you can overlook my hypocrisy here, because I really feel the need right now to have all the blog posts I have published anywhere in one place, that is NOT a local hard drive! Tomorrow, I promise I will start posting again about what is going on with me RIGHT NOW!

Be Present

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118: 24

The sixth and final secret to seek God is to be present.

Lately, it seems we are bombarded with messages about this very topic. Verizon had an ad campaign that featured the hashtag “#bepresent.” Over the holidays, American Airlines ran a great commercial with the tagline “This Christmas, enjoy the gift of presence.” As a society, it seems we are less “present” than ever.

When I am present – or focused on what is right in front of me right this second – I am closer to God. I put myself in a right relationship with God when I recognize that all I can really control is what I do in this moment. When I’m trying to do five things at once, when I’m obsessing about the future or the past, or when I’m escaping from reality through unhealthy habits, I make myself too big or too small. I forget about God.

Let me give you an example. Earlier today, I decided it was so critical to get this devotional written that I needed to do it while I walked the dog. I had the brilliant idea that I could dictate the post into my phone’s notes app! It was really going to be a beautiful devotional. I was going to start it off by telling you I had secretly made a New Year’s resolution to take walks, and that I wasn’t living up to it, but when I just remembered to “be present,” I realized that it didn’t matter because right in this moment I WAS taking a walk. Somehow, it sounded so much better in my head. I was going to wrap it up by talking about that American Airlines commercial and how you can’t have “the gift of presence” unless you experience the “presence” of the Holy Spirit. Seriously, you would have loved it.

Unfortunately, you will never get to read it, because as I was trying to be Super Woman, I missed something that was right in front of me, and it caused me to stumble, literally and figuratively. I didn’t notice that one of the sidewalk squares was quite a bit higher than the others, and I stubbed my toe. Hard. It was the kind of toe stubbing that radiates through your whole foot. And then through your whole body. And then makes you limp. And quit trying to be Super Woman.

From that point on, I awoke to the irony of my situation and decided that I would actually just try to “be present” for the rest of the day. At first, I had to really focus on what my five senses perceived to stay in the current moment. I realized it was a beautiful day! I heard birds chirping, felt the sun and wind on my face, and noticed how insanely cute my dog is. For the rest of the walk and after I got back home, I had to continually re-focus my thoughts back to the present. I was shocked at how many times I had to do this! I began praying to God to help me stay in the current moment. Instead of reaching for my phone, or Facebook, or some other distraction, I asked God to guide me and show me the next step whenever there was a moment’s pause.

I have heard many people talk about how life is best lived when you just focus on doing the “next right thing.” The trouble is sometimes I can’t quite figure out what the “next right thing” is. Is it to do the next load of laundry? To reply to the back log of emails in my Inbox? To play a game with one of my kids? Because I was so focused on staying in the present today, it was easier to pause, take a deep breath, pray for guidance and discern what the “next right thing” was.

God is in the now. He’s right here. Right now. He wants you to rely on Him one step at a time, one moment at a time. He wants you to “be present,” not because the word “presence” is a really cool word that can have lots of double meanings, but because when you live in the current moment, you let go of everything else. You have to. Every day, every moment, really is made by the Lord, as the Bible verse above states. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

The Ultimate Teacher

When I was a kid, teachers took role by calling each student’s name out loud. When you heard your name called, you responded with a loud “Present!” I don’t think any of us understood what the word “present” meant or why we said it. We just said it to let the teacher know we were there, because that’s what we were taught.

Ironically, this memory of saying something I didn’t fully understand helps me today to understand what people mean when they say be present.

Just like I said “Present!” to mean “I’m here!” in school, another way I know that I am present today is when I answer with an “I’m here!” when called upon.

For example, if I’m in a room with my family but off in my own world, I won’t answer right away with anything like an “I’m here!” if someone calls out my name. I’m not present even though my body is physically in the room. Similarly, I am not present on a spiritual level if I don’t respond when God calls me.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

Isaiah 6:8

What a beautiful verse! The next time I hear God whisper into the deepest parts of my soul, I hope and pray the words “Here am I. Send me!” come to mind. I know this hasn’t always been my first reaction to God’s calls.

Just like I can get distracted in the physical world by any number of things and miss what is right in front of me, I can easily miss that God is right in front of me. To truly be present on a spiritual level, I have to practice the other five secrets for seeking God:

  1. Be Still – Before you can answer God’s call with an “I’m Here!” you must spend quiet time with Him so you can recognize His voice and block out any other distractions.
  2. Be True – It’s impossible to be present if you are not comfortable in your own skin. You must first learn to be true to who you are, even if it is different from everyone else around you.
  3. Let Go – To be present – in a place where you answer “I’m here!” when God calls your name – you have to surrender everything in your life to God.
  4. Get Uncomfortable – Sometimes the places God asks you to go are so far outside your comfort zone that your immediate reaction is to say no. It is only when you realize the truth that transformation requires you to be uncomfortable that you can say “Yes! I’m here!” to God.
  5. Change Your Perspective on Pain – It is most difficult to be present when we are in pain. But when we change our perspective of pain so that we see it as a teacher, and as a path to spiritual progress and peace, we can say “I’m here!” to even the most difficult tasks.

In what areas of your life can you work to be more present?
Is God calling you to do something that you have yet to respond to with an “I’m here!”?

Being present doesn’t mean we say yes to every opportunity to serve that comes our way, but it also means we don’t always say no. It means that when we hear our teacher take role, we are awake and alert. And when our names are called, even if we don’t understand fully what we are saying, we respond as we have been taught and say “Here I am Lord. Send me!”

This post was originally published as a series of devotionals called “Six Secrets to Seeking God” on The Sisterhood’s website (http://www.tothemoonsisterhood.com).