Changing The Conversation

I will never be like… Them. Her. Him.

Those words have echoed through time. Each generation insisting they will be the ones to rise above nurture and triumph over nature to accomplish the greatest things. Outpacing their elders and proving their worth, undeniably.

Yet, in our passion to reject failures that cave in around us and our fragile identities like footprints on the beach, we become the very thing we have sworn to abandon forever.

Daughters become like mothers, sons age into carbon copies of their fathers in a cycle that seems never ending, more insurmountable than Gangkhar Puensum. Despite the plethora of parenting blogs, books, magazines, counselors, et al, we are failing. Our sons and our daughters, with a front row seat to our failures and flaws are quick to become the rising tide of…

I will never be like…

It is a generational anthem breaking down the families of nearly everyone I know. The pastors, the leaders, the authors, the mommy bloggers with the five steps to hearing your child’s heart and rote methodology for establishing a home that creates legacy simply aren’t enough to break this rhythm.

The rhythm breeds a revolution. The revolution adds another loop to the chain and, before you know it – You are back at square one. Again.

Same dance. Different partner.

But what if we change the conversation?

What if, as the dawning realization unfolds that we are simply having the same conversations decade after decade we took the ultimate risk and choose to stop playing our role in the conversation the same way it has been played before us?

What if we just quit? Quit defying. Quit resenting. Quit arrogantly assuming we have an answer to questions our forefathers also asked.

Tired of coming back to the same place, what if we just stopped dancing?

And then, because there is no such thing as inertia in the human existence, we purposefully propel ourselves TOWARD something far bigger and nobler than ourselves in lieu of constantly throwing ourselves AWAY from what is known, quantified, and rejected.

Suddenly, we quit leaping into the darkness of abandoning ourselves from all that is known and despised and, instead, in a spectacular show of bravery, we take the risk of diving INTO an unforeseen goodness.

We quit running away and begin running toward –

A Presence higher than ourselves. Tested and proven. One who lives outside of our limited existence and is not damaged by our inherent brokenness.

What if, instead of simply, emphatically, childishly stomping our feet and declaring we won’t be like…

We simply, emphatically, and with child-like faith, declared we would devote our lives to becoming like…

The One who loved children and honored His mother, raised the dead and hugged the leper, fed the hungry, comforted the grieving, stole away in the wee hours to spend time with His Father, rebuked the selfish, mentored the young, made disciples into friends and strangers into family.

What if we spent our energy and time committed to doing all that it takes to be just like Him?

Where would we be in the next few generations if we just quit having the same conversations and embarked on an adventure that could lead us into becoming the generation that actually does change things and instead of revolution we created harmony between generations?

What if?

Mom Fails & Redemption – Coffee Grounds & Grace

It happened again today. That “feel good about parenting” meme popped up on Facebook and told me a list of so many things to do that will somehow magically insure that my sons grow up wise and loved, nurtured and adored. Because this is what love looks like. This is what mothering looks like, idiot.

Apparently? It was the formula that mattered, in the long-run. It seemed those who could somehow master the formula could expect to produce the most wonderful children and those who didn’t?

Well, we just didn’t.

Guilt and shame preserved, laid up for the later years. Like rows of Grandma’s green beans on a shelf, all the ways I have failed are lined up for inspection in stark contrast to the pastel-tinted, fancy-font description of a type of motherhood that looks nothing like me then or now.

In the beginning, we thought we had a formula. Insert Famous Baby Rearing Method Here was the answer to all the uncertainty of infancy and parenting. It was ideal for me. I could easily obsess about feeding times and sleep v. wake times. Demand obedience, the first time, as page after page, checklist after checklist, I determined to get an A on the “Parenting Test”.

Do as I say. I am the authority. I am the boss of you. Rigid and right. Fearful.

“This is what it means to be a mother”, I was told. “This is the method for producing children who are wise and loved, nurtured and adored.”

So I did all the things for all those years, blindly pursuing the ideal and confident that the thing I was doing was going to produce those results.

This + this = Result.   Guaranteed.

Except it didn’t.  When I realized it wasn’t working the way the book promised, the way the people around me who attended the classes and seminars assured me, the blinders began to slip.

And the damage began to emerge.  I had very compliant children who flinched when I got loud.  Children who hid their desires and fears, their hopes and frustrations from me.  I had raised children who could put on a show but avoided me at home.

“Dear God, what have I done?”

“What can I do now?”

“How do I make this right?”

But there aren’t any really easy answers, are there, for the things we’ve done?

You can’t turn back the clock and undo the shouting, the unnecessary anger, the hypocritical mantra of “first-time obedience” from people who won’t even consider an offering unless it’s Super Special.  Who are incapable of obeying even the simplest commands to love one another as we had been loved.

His little body, from his round cheeks down to his chubby little belly was covered in coffee grounds. Big brown eyes, wide open and frightened, stared back at me as I surveyed the damage.

Not even 24 hours into our new house, no washing machine, no idea where the towels even were at that moment, and his little brother sleeping in their room on a playpen we’d hastily put up.

He knew.

He knew I would over-react. He knew it would be harsh. He knew me.

He was afraid.

I wish I could tell you  I responded to the dirty diaper, the exhausted toddler who had been living on the road for 3 weeks, and the chaos of our life by sitting down and taking a breath.

I would give nearly anything to relive that moment and comfort the little one trembling on a chair, one hand into the coffee maker, the other full of grounds.

We’d laugh about the mess and he’d get a warm bath while I cleaned him up. Who cares if we have to hand wash some stuff in the sink? We could stand, side by side, and I would kiss his silk soft little head holding him soft and tender against me.

I’d like to remember those moments that way, but I can’t.

I demanded my child should behave like the grown up I was unwilling to be. He should have known better. He should have controlled himself (really?). He should have… So I didn’t have to.

There was a part of his heart that died toward me that day and our rebuilding has taken years and apologies and forgiveness offered and prayer. Lots and lots of prayer.

That wasn’t the first time I damaged the relationship with my kids under the guise of “discipline” and it certainly wasn’t the last.  How could I discipline them when I rejected the Lord’s discipline and refused to discipline myself?

Tonight…

“Mom, just one song? I really want to do music with you!”

“You inspire me, Mom. Are you going to write something? I can’t wait to read it and see what you weave together.”

“Good night, Mom. I love you.”

I ache for all the wasted time. The broken years. The stolen moments. My arms miss the feel of those little bodies snuggled deep and close and sometimes I find myself imagining the gift of one more time when I could share this intense desire to protect them and kiss away tears instead of the horrific phrase, “Suck it up!” that I most often snapped out like some kind of emotional whip when they struggled.

God is redeeming the meaning of family to us. One apology at a time. One request for forgiveness at a time.  I have learned that the only way to restore what has been destroyed by my own hands is to walk, every day, willing to repent and apologize, ask forgiveness,  allow the children I adore to express their disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and anger against me.   Not just allow it but own it.  I tore my house down with my own hands.  They are actually helping me rebuild it.

We heal a little more each time I am willing to still myself by sitting down, near but quiet, while they wrestle with far greater things than coffee grounds.

It is a reflection of God’s heart and His hand deep at work in the lives of my children that we can love one another now. I do not have the family I deserve.

Grace goes way beyond that.

Sour Then Sweet – A Tale of Learning To Love

Earlier that day we’d talked long and intensely about how to engage with people while we live our daily lives. Does it matter to “establish a rapport” or should we just talk and “share the love of Jesus” no matter where we are? What if our zeal for loving others can be misunderstood as something absolutely not what we intended.

Should opportunities to care about someone, even a complete stranger require the following caveat?

“No, I am not hitting on you because I am interested in you as a person. I really just like people and Jesus loves you so much.”

The discussion was long, often heated on both sides of the aisle. Plenty of opportunities for humility and grace were ignored as we waged a tiny little war for integrity. So, we belabored the point. We stretched definitions. We raised our opinions, and beat each other over the head and shoulders with insight and scripture. The house filled with tears and frustration, deep breaths and walking away. We aren’t good at this yet.

The conversation wasn’t to say it is ever wrong to talk to someone but seeking the wisdom of how to speak to the world around us is a treasure worth fighting for and we were all hunting for Truth.

What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to share the love of Jesus with your fellow man? Isaiah 58. What does it mean?

We went for a drive. All our hearts a bit battered and bruised. The normally joking voices in the back seat were muted. Under the sound of the GPS my mama heart was hurting, his father’s heart was longing for peace.

Carefully, we began to relax and conversation flowed  as we drove to a few nearby lakes, helped a turtle cross the road, dodged a bunny, watched an osprey fish, but eventually we began to flirt again with the unresolved ideas that never had really stopped happening in our thoughts.

One last lake. A little park we hadn’t been to before, bright green and a bit overgrown in the light of the sun setting over wooded hills. Fishermen and splashing dogs, a few kayaks on the water, a group of young people, cheap beer in hand, friendly smiles all around. Hummingbird sized mosquitoes. We walked the edge of the lake while the last bits of the puzzle came into place and humility and grace met intensity and passion until there was a single unified family once again.

In the last few minutes of the evening, at the end of a day with more questions than answers, we turned and headed home.

Down the rocky trail, past the dock, creaking across the boardwalk pathway, slapping away mosquitoes. Brian and Isaac walking ahead shoulder to shoulder while Dillon and I followed talking about how to be willing to hear from anyone what the Spirit might be saying and not disregard the lessons we can learn any day from anyone.

Slouching in a dirty purple t-shirt, brown hair scraggly around a sunburned face, she looked down and away when we approached. All their belongings piled, organized with military precision, and tied down tight onto two overpacked shopping carts. A shovel and a hoe tied to the side of one, tarps covering it all, and his intense eyes surveyed the little park they had wandered into. The white muzzled  little black dog stretched to the end of her leash, guarding her people, her home on wobbly wheels, while the brown dog stayed on her blanket under the cart alternating between watchful and just tired. Desperation and exhaustion rolled off them in waves.

Dillon and I caught up with Isaac and Brian as they struck up a conversation.  Eventually, we heard how they had been walking for days.

Days.

Pushing these heavy carts from one town to the next on back roads and side roads. Up and down hills.  Always moving.

Everything they owned piled high. All they felt they could carry close at hand as they searched out a new place to be.

Thankful it wasn’t raining.

“Do you have a cigarette?” he asked, hopeful.   “I’m sorry. We don’t smoke.” I said, awkwardly.   I wanted to give them something.   We don’t have cash. We don’t have food. Giving them the last bit of a jug of lemonade we’d all been drinking out of seemed foolish.

“Where are you headed?”

He gave us the name of the next town over and asked how far it was.

“Two-three miles?”

She visibly deflated, putting her head down on top of the cart in front of her 5′ frame.   Obviously,  the thought of another day of walking and pushing carts was more than her nearly middle aged chubby frame could handle. His thin shoulders straightened as he tried to make sense of the news and a tan, dirty hand clenched, the wedding ring flickering a bright silvery gold in the fading light.

We walked off with a half-hearted “God bless you” feeling like that was a pathetic way to leave anyone.

We had a friend’s truck. As we walked toward it, an idea sparked in us. Could we fit the carts in the back and take them to the next town? Staying in the park overnight wasn’t safe or legal and them walking another day when we could at least offer them that bit of assistance?   Should we?

What if it was a scam and they’d…. What if?

We found some rope. We stopped and prayed and then Brian and the boys walked back to ask if we could offer them a ride.

I didn’t hear the conversation, myself.  He said we were a…. “miracle”.  We didn’t feel very miraculous yesterday, of all the days.

She was quiet but seemed relieved. Even the dogs weren’t snarky anymore.

As I wandered over,  I saw him squat down on the ground, the palms of his hands pressed against his eyes.  I caught the very last bit of a prayer, his voice rough and scratchy.

“… bless these people.”

He prayed for us. Brian and Isaac gathered them up in the truck and drove them to a small hotel where he said they could afford to stay a night while Dillon and I started walking down the road laughing about our “Great Adventure” while praying that the Lord would fill the car with His love and peace.

“So, was it ok?” I asked Brian when we were all comfortably cruising down the road, up and down the very hills they had walked.

“They said it was a hard day today. Someone called 911 and the ambulance came because they were so worn out. The medics gave them some Gatorade but they didn’t have to go to hospital.”

We all got quiet.

“He hugged me. Then apologized because he hasn’t had a shower in a week. Like I cared?” Brian offered.

“Mom, I got their phone number. Maybe we can get in touch with them again? Bring them a meal or something?”

“That would be great. Maybe we could meet up somewhere and treat them to dinner. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

All the rest of the way home we made plans for how we would plan to spend time with our new friends, Matthew and Tina.

Just like that, all the questions had answers.

This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to show Jesus to our fellow man. We serve one another. Any way we can. We show kindness and compassion. In the most gentle, brilliant way, God answered all our questions and honored all our wrestling. Is there a need? Can I meet some of it? If I can, how could I ever walk away?

This is love.

Isaiah 58:6-7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”

Writing A Holy Thing

I quit writing a few months back.

Just quit.

Cold turkey.

Because writing is hard and there were too many other hard things happening.  I wasn’t willing to share the process of becoming us with a world that I didn’t really trust.

Yes. I have trust issues.

See, friends, the things God is doing to us and in us and through us are Sacred. The transformations are Kadosh, holy, set apart.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that the “be still” part comes before, “Know that I am God”.

Stillness is hard. Knowing is hard.

Honestly, my soul is five. Barely beyond toddlerhood and stretching toward Big Kid activities while lacking the wherewithal to make sense of the day to day awkwardness of submission and obedience to a Father I hardly comprehend.

So, in between crawling up on his lap, barely restraining the desire to suck my thumb, and throwing Epic Tantrums, I just haven’t had the strength put that all out here like some kind of Soul Buffet where readers pick and choose and throw away the things they despise.

Several years ago, I toyed with the idea of writing about parenting. But my heart knew I didn’t have anything to say that I believed would resonate beyond, “Try hard and pray hard.”  Much of what I thought was “good parenting” would be better defined as rigid control and fearful consent.

Today? Today I have the family God has made. It is not the one I deserve. These sons are not the children I discipled. They are the ones God has taken under His wing.

This family we have is hard work. Today it’s hard work. Today it’s humility and repentance and loud voices and resentments transformed into prayer and worship. We haven’t arrived at completeness.  We are deep in the trenches.

If we haven’t seen you in a while, we are not the Stones you knew. You wouldn’t recognize us.  You might think you do.  Pinky swear, you don’t.

That’s a pretty good thing. No, that’s a lie.

It’s an amazing gift.

It’s amazing because God did it and I want to tell you how. I want to unravel all the days, count the tears, re-live the echoing defiance that softened into resolute obedience.

I want to tell you that it’s possible for you to do this too. I want to hold your hands and sit awkwardly close to whisper through the fog of All The Things, that you too can live in complete and complicated honesty with your husband and your wife, your children, and your God.

I’m not sure you’ll believe me if I told you how many times a week we sit down to talk and end up spending an hour or more in worship and intercession. Because my teenaged sons are driving it. How many times my sons minister with love and compassion, brutal honesty, and lives of intentional praise, to the homeless guy, the girl at church, the kid at Walmart, their dad, to me.

I don’t know if you’d believe the music as it pours out of them, original, raw, focused on a God they know and adore.

Maybe you’ll think it’s a put-on, a show for your benefit.

It’s not. It’s the realest thing I know. I couldn’t have manufactured the world in which we live. In this world?  We are Weird.  Capital W.  But we don’t have to be.  I think we are living what God has intended for family from the beginning.

We have found mishpachah (family) that doesn’t settle for half-truths and getting along.  We are a unit, a platoon, that wrestles with pain and brokenness, bitterness and resentment from years of sin until it disappears in the light and glory of Grace extended, received, and compounded. Grace upon Grace.

For you there is a family of integrity hidden deep within the Father’s heart. He has His name written all over yours – You + Him = Love 4ever – until only His name remains.

I want to tell you this whole story.   One conversation at a time. One moment at a time. I want to bring you with me into the place where the hearts of the fathers long for their sons and the hearts of the sons yearn for their father. Earthly AND eternal.

How do I write such solemn things? Solemnity drenched in joy. The Divine wrapped in late night Taco Bell runs and long train rides.

There’s nothing special about us. About me. We haven’t Done Good Things to arrive at this point. We haven’t “earned” each other’s affections or run harder.

We simply said “Yes” when given the opportunity to follow the Master.

And this story of Yes has made a family where over-compensating strangers shrouded in shame and fear once lived.

So, if I tell you how God has worked in us, will you come along and be willing to say “yes” too?

This life thing. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s scary. It’s hard.

We all have trust issues.

This Year

This year. Of being broken and broken. Over and over.  Again and again until what remained, who remains, looks nothing like who began and I can’t find the shreds I was holding so tightly to only 365 days ago.  What were those things I couldn’t live without?

I don’t remember.

This year. Being remade and remade and remade until hand-me-down patches of identity have grown to encompass the whole, not quite covering, the rips and scars, and shredding of all I thought I had to have. The piles of Must Have whittled down to the brightest sharpest edges capable of piercing through stone and sculpting through the scrap-work me to find…

Who ever it is that remains.

This year. Wrestling and fighting and persevering when there were mountains to climb, oceans to cross, love to lose, love to gain. Giving up a thousand times, crying out that I could not bear it one moment longer. Yet, still moving forward. Keeping my feet, my eyes, my hands, moving and engaged while my heart thudded along, numbed and crushed. Dried to powder. Dirt devils whipping and twirling in a Spirit Wind that dances across the soul’s landscape.

This year.  When words failed and hands fell, quiet.  When prose and method trickled off into a vacant stare.  When the million things that bounced around in my head beat themselves silent on the closely guarded gates of my insufficiency. When the music couldn’t find rhythm and the lyrics didn’t rhyme.

This year. Friends found and friends left. Holding close and letting go. Finding a niche that fit and fitting into a niche that didn’t. Falling in love. Falling apart. Falling down.  Falling…

This year. Voices raised in song and whispers in the dark. Triumph and failure. Weakness and strength. Hope shining at the very bottom of the darkest pit.

This year I didn’t ask for. This year I thought I figured it out. This year I lost.

This year I won, but lost anyway.

This year of setting aside sparkles, waiting for the light pollution to fade. Find the gold that doesn’t glitter.  Setting aside things that softened the onward march of years while I search for who really lurks beneath.  Learning to really look at the crows feet and cellulite of my soul’s excesses bravely and not shrink away.  Seeking life’s reality without cosmetic enhancement to mask the fight or flight battle raging within.

This year I mistook the promise of transformation for the myth of being reborn into an image recognizable or to be coveted.

This year… 

When the Creator saw all that was and loved me anyway.

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