Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Everything's Not OK

The obligatory answer to the question "How are you?" is understood to be "Fine." 

Maybe a "Good, how are you?" or sometimes an "I'm OK, thanks."

Nobody really expects (or desires) for you to say, "Well, truthfully, everything stinks right now. My kids are driving me nuts, my husband and I can't seem to get on the same page intimately, and I kind of want to punch my coworker in the face." 

If we said such things, we'd get a whole lot more than we bargained for, and truthfully, we don't need to share that much with acquaintances who innocently ask how we are. 

But in telling most of the world we're fine, do we unconsciously convince ourselves we are? Because if we're honest, we're often not fine. Everything's not always ok, and we have no obligation to the world to pretend that we are.

But when our souls beg us to ask how things are, we must be willing to admit the honest emotions we're feeling and the true conditions of our hearts. To do so, we have to face what's really going on. Denial is dangerous. If it's easier to pretend nothing's wrong than it is to honestly analyze our hearts, we have a major problem.

I have become hyper-aware lately that when there's a soul problem deep inside, when my heart is struggling and my emotions are unbalanced, my go-to is to check out. I avoid the core issue for days at a time, subconsciously pretending the problem away. I play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with myself, running from the problem so I don't have to face it while simultaneously living every moment affected by it.

It's insanity.

I don't know if this avoider mentality is just a trait born of genetics or a product of my upbringing. Maybe it's a combination of both. Regardless, I'm learning that it's only ever harmful to me and those I love. My childish refusal to acknowledge my issues is an indication that I'm relying only on myself for their healing. If I keep them locked up inside, then I'm believing the solution is also inside. It's not. We need other people to help us heal our old wounds. Hurts that remain hidden only fester. Dark places that are never exposed to light never lose their dark power over us.

I'm not suggesting we start telling others the unedited truth of our hearts if our hearts are not "fine." But I am suggesting that we start telling ourselves the truth of our hearts. I am suggesting that we pay attention when our souls scream and that we listen when our hearts hurt. Avoidance never heals. Problems don't just disappear. And in spite of our well-intentioned reply that we're 'fine," sometimes we're just not.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How To Do Church Right

I wanted so badly to do it right. Whatever the Christian life looked like, I wanted to represent it well.

A people-pleaser by nature with perfectionist tendencies, I knew that if I could just find the hidden list of do’s and don’ts, I’d be set. I’d memorize it, practice it, and ace the Christian test.

I would make Jesus, and those around me watching, proud.

It took me years to realize how very wrong I was.

While I was wanting to do things for Jesus, He was whispering, “It’s already done.” While I was trying to work for Jesus, He was saying, “Peace. Be still.” While I was thinking I had something to prove, Jesus was telling me, “I already proved it all.”

To continue reading, click here. I'm honored to be guest posting today with Debby Hudson.

Friday, September 2, 2016

One More Step

It was brutally hot on the South Carolina coast, and like any good vacationers, we were out in it. My little family was staying near an old lighthouse, and we choose the hottest part of the hottest day to see it.

The path was winding, changing from pavement to sand, and as we panted and plodded, we couldn't see the lighthouse. We knew where we were headed, but our eyes didn't reveal what we knew was the goal. Our eyes only saw what was right in front of us, but that didn't prevent us from believing the lighthouse existed. Our limited vision didn't preclude the truth. The lighthouse didn't cease to exist just because we weren't there yet.

Faith is a lot like that path to the lighthouse.

Conditions aren't always ideal, and we get tired along the way. Our eyes don't see what our brains believe, and we start to wonder if the truth is really true. The path is meandering, and we want to turn around.

But faith is being certain of what we do not see.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

Faith is enough when the path isn't clear.

The path only requires one more step. Each day, in the midst of exhaustion and uncertainty, just one more step. That's what is asked of us today.

Linking up today to Five Minute Friday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Things I Want My Son to Know

OK, son. You're in that weird stage right now where you're technically not a teenager yet, but you're not a little kid anymore, either. I know it's super strange. Your body is changing, your voice is sounding different, and your brain is struggling to keep up. The next few years are going to be different for both you and for me. I've been thinking about some things you should know, and while this list is definitely not exhaustive, I figure it's a good start.

  • Deodorant and foot washing are not optional. Ever. They're just not. As your body changes (you'll learn this in sex-ed), your hormones go berserk, and you. will. stink. You already do. (No offense.) It's not your fault, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but Lord have mercy, it is something you can control. The deodorant is in the top bathroom drawer (I'm assuming you forgot?) and foot washing involves soap. With a washcloth. And a vigorous scrubbing motion. No, you cannot count standing in the soap suds on the shower floor. Not sufficient. Scrub those stink cells off your feet. Then repeat. 
  • You won't always (or maybe ever) be the best athlete on your team, but you are overqualified to work your butt off. If I ever see you being the last one to get to the line, or if you think it's acceptable to saunter off the field, you will hear my screech from the stands and feel my wrath at home. Your coaches should all say the same thing - "Man, is that kid a hard worker." I'll be more proud to hear that than to hear you're the top hitter. Seriously. Work ethic matters more than your stats. 
  • Don't ever get too cool to read good books. I know that somewhere in middle school, many guys stop liking to read. (And as a former teacher, I know it's because we educators start assigning crap-tastic books and forcing you to read what you hate. But I digress.) You love to read right now, and the books on your shelves have taught you so many things you can't learn in school. Reading opens doors to worlds you need to see. A man who doesn't read is often a man whose mind is closed. Don't be that man.
  • Your world is going to open up in the next few years. I want you to venture into it and explore what it has to offer, but I want you to do it in the confines of what we've taught you matters. I want to live in the limits of the values we hold. This means you won't do everything that others do. You won't go everywhere they go, and you won't say/think/drink/experiment with everything they do. There is no shame in standing on your own. There is no shame is saying that something's not for you. There is great shame in realizing you've violated your own standards. Remember who you are. 
  • Nothing is off limits when it comes to approaching me. If you have questions about something, you can ask me. It might embarrass us both or make me cringe, but who better than someone who loves you to see your face turn red? If you've done something wrong, I am still here. My love is not dependent on your choices, and though I'll be praying you make the right ones, if you don't, you can still come to me. Our home is your home base, and it is your safe place. 
  • Keep asking me to scratch your back at night. I know I get annoyed when you ask for 5 more minutes every single night, and I know I always say I'm ready to go to bed, too, but that time with you is my favorite. It's just us, and when you're facing the wall, you often open up and tell me things that I wouldn't otherwise know. It lets me know you need me, and there's nothing a mom needs more.
  • Your outfit doesn't all have to be the same color. Seriously. If you're wearing a red shirt, your shorts don't have to be red, too. Variety is the spice of life, bud. Look at the color wheel and learn about complementary colors. Your future wife will be so impressed if you can pick out your own clothes. Trust me on this one.
  • I will never stop giving you chores. You've been putting your laundry away for years, and hauling out the trash and cutting the grass aren't going away either. As you get older, your responsibilities will only increase. It's preparing you for life outside our house. Get used to it.
  • No, you still can't have a phone. I know. I'm mean and everyone else already has one. Too bad. God didn't tell me to make you happy, and what everyone else has is not my concern. Unlimited technology does nothing to give you the character you need, and it opens up a world you are SO not ready to enter. (I'm 36 and not ready for it either.) My calling as a mother is to help you discover your calling, and scrolling through selfies on Instagram isn't it. Friends in real life are more valuable than likes on social media. And no, I don't know when you can have one. Maybe when you actually start putting your laundry IN the basket instead of on your floor. Baby steps, son. Baby steps.
  • I love you like nobody's business, but understand here and now that you will not be a 30 year old man living in my basement playing video games. You are expected to be educated for a job or trained in a skill that can provide you with housing and food. I will do everything in my power to aid you to this end, but at some point you will leave the nest. Even if it's my foot kicking your backside out. There is nothing healthy about an adult refusing to be an adult, and in this house you will not be enabled to stay a child. Nope. Forget about it. I will not do for a man what he can do for himself. I love you, but I will also love coming to your house to visit.
So there you go, babe. Just some nuggets of wisdom for your preteen self. We're headed into uncharted waters for our family, but we're in it together. Unless you forget your deodorant. Then it's every man for himself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What They Carry

He held a cardboard sign like those we often see. "Homeless. Anything helps."

His long hair was disheveled, his clothes obviously worn. His posture was slumped, that of a man accustomed to defeat. He was stooped from bearing his load. 

The light was red, so I stopped, and I rolled my window down. "Sir?" I said. "I have some crackers."

I passed the food to grateful hands and barely heard as he quietly said, "Thank you." He walked slowly back to his post in the grass, and I left as my light turned green. I drove, away from his pain and towards my provision, and I can't forget the look on his face. 

I wish I knew the color of his eyes. But he never made eye contact with me.

Shame, I suppose, kept his gaze to the ground, and embarrassment prevented his soul from looking at mine. He was begging for help, a hard thing to do, and accepting it was no easy task either.

Hours later, I am haunted by what I took the time to see. 

I rarely stop and roll down my window in these situations. I can blame it on many things, of course - apathy, distrust, not having cash or food to give, fear... But when I don't stop, I don't see. And when I don't see, I can convince myself I don't have to care.

I have no idea what this man's story is. I don't know his name, and I don't know if I'll ever see him again. But he reminded me that every encounter with another person is a chance either to lift their burden or to make it greater. Every encounter is an opportunity to affirm their existence or to deny it.

We envy and judge and criticize and condemn because we don't see what other people carry. We don't know what they've buried in the depths of their hearts. We can't feel the hurt that's ever-present in their lives.

We don't know their past, and we don't know their present. We don't know, so we don't let ourselves care.

This weary man in dirty clothes reminded me that I want to see people. Not just their shells, but the real them inside. Not what they present to the world, but the hidden depths they don't share.

Stepping into another's life is always deliberate, and it's often messy. Understanding their hearts is a process carried out in love. But it all begins with the simple step of choosing to see them. Seeing them and not just their mess.

In the image of God. That's how they were created. Lord, give me eyes to see.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Experience with Postpartum Depression

All I ever wanted to be was a mother, and as soon as I became one, all I could do was cry.

My pregnancy with my son was perfect, and I looked forward to the day when I could hold the little one growing inside me in my arms. I decorated his nursery with airplanes, hung his tiny outfits in the closet, and stared at his profile on the ultrasound.

I was made to be a mother, and I couldn't wait. I was ready, or so I thought.

When the pains woke me from a dead sleep, I screamed louder than I ever had and hurt worse than I knew was possible. From zero to dying - this was my labor story.

After laboring for hours, it was finally time. Time to see his face. Hold his body. Touch his flesh. It was time, but something wasn't right.

He had turned, and a natural delivery was no longer possible. Surgery was required, and I was devastated. My tears began then, and they didn't stop for weeks. The plan in my head was gone, and a depression I had never experienced had come.

He was delivered, and he was healthy. Six pounds, 3 ounces, with wisps of dark hair and the eyes of an old-soul. He was perfect. But I wasn't.
Right away, something wasn't right. Initially, I had strange reactions to all the medications. I hallucinated and spoke out of my mind and gave my family a lot of laughs.

But when I got home, I still wasn't right.

I was trying to recover from a major surgery, trying to breastfeed, and trying to understand why I felt so unhappy. All I could do was cry, and all I wanted was to be alone. It's hard to admit nearly eleven years later, but I was severely disconnected from my son. His needs overwhelmed me and his cries consumed me. I had a picture in my head of how motherhood was supposed to be, and this wasn't it. I wanted to close my eyes and disappear. Close my eyes and ignore my baby. Close my eyes and maybe not wake up.

I knew I was sad, but I didn't know why. I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't have a name for how I felt.

I was going through the motions of motherhood, but I didn't realize how far away from myself I was.

I cried nonstop, and no amount of determination changed how I felt. No amount of prayer fixed me. When I wasn't crying, I was staring into space, numb.

I was sick, so sick, but I didn't understand. I was in the vise-grip of depression with no way to escape on my own.

My mother stepped in, and I believe she might have saved my life. She forced me to call my doctor, and had she not, I honestly don't know what would have happened. She forced me to make an appointment, and she forced me to go. She sat in the waiting room with my tiny baby as I told the doctor I needed help.

I did need help, and I got it. Not everyone who needs it does, and that's why I'm sharing my story with you.

Recently, a friend of a friend took her own life. She was a new mother, and she was depressed. Her story could have been mine, and it's the story of so many others. I recently learned that suicide is the leading cause of death in post-partum mothers. It doesn't have to be.

My hospital sent me home with a list of instructions on how and when to feed my baby, how and when to change my surgical dressings, how and when to bathe my baby. Included on the sheet was a side-note on what to do if depression struck.

Depression is not a side-note. Depression, especially in new mothers, is very real and much more common than it's spoken about. So we need to be honest about it.

It's not your fault. It's not because you did something wrong, and it's not the end of your story.

Depression is treatable. But I'm convinced most who experience it cannot - will not - treat it on their own. They, like me, will hide it in shame and wait for it go away. They will pretend they are ok and will try to convince themselves they are. Most people who experience it need someone who loves them to step in and demand they get help. Make an appointment for them. Force them to go. Sit in the waiting room while they admit they need help.

If you love someone who is pregnant or newly post-partum, make yourself the one who looks out for her. Be her advocate. Be a voice who speaks into her life and says, "It doesn't have to be this way. Let's get you some help."

I cannot overemphasize that I do not believe I would have sought help on my own. I would not have swallowed my pride and said, "Help me." I would not have admitted I couldn't handle my problem. The woman you love? She might not either. It doesn't have to be this way.

Watch for the signs. Listen to what she's not saying. And step in to her pain. She may need it more than you can understand.

Allison Goldstein's story
Brooke Shields's book Down Came the Rain

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why Mom-Olympians Should Inspire Us

These Olympics are going to be the death of me, y'all.

First, because I am literally losing sleep over them. NBC decided they need to show the events that get the highest ratings as late as possible, and since I feel like I'll miss something if I don't watch them as they air, I hold my eyelids open to stay awake and then stagger around like a zombie the next day.

At this rate, it will be December before I recover.

Second, the back stories. Goodness gracious. We've seen kids rise from poverty and foster care to be the greatest of all time, and we've watched people push through career-threatening injuries to make it back to the Olympics. Their bodies bear the bruises, and we've collectively learned about kinesiology tape and strange orbs from cupping. I'm amazed by what the human body can bear and what the human spirit can endure.

And, of course, you have the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Runners false starting and immediately being disqualified? Cyclists crashing and bleeding from their wounds? Gymnasts vaulting and shattering legs on the landing? Agonizing.

But then there are the mothers.

The commentators on TV are fascinated by the athletes who are mothers, and even though there's been some criticism on social media for their incessant need to point it out, I just want to state for the record that I am fascinated, too.

These women are the absolute best at their sports, and in the midst of their training and preparation and traveling to competitions, they do what many of us do every day. They parent. Their bodies have been through the most grueling event ever - pregnancy and childbirth - and they are still able to operate in beast mode. I gave birth nine years ago and am still trying to get my body back and not have embarrassing accidents when I sneeze.

They deserve some mad respect.

Listen, you can call it sexist that many of the male athletes are dads and no one ever mentions it. But let's be real. The men did not grow another human being inside their bodies, have their bodies nearly (or in some cases actually) split open to deliver that human being into the world, feed the human being with food produced by their very own bodies, and then six weeks later get back at it like nothing ever happened.

So yes, I love when the commentators let me know the elite athletes I'm watching are moms. It makes their victories even sweeter to me. But it also inspires, and dare I say, challenges me.

Here's the deal. These women know you can simultaneously mother a child and pursue a passion. You can mother and work. You can mother and train. You can mother and win. You can mother and - fill in the blank.

Ladies, you can. We can. We don't have to, but we can.

There's a 41 year old gymnast who competed against athletes the same age as her son. She has said she just loves gymnastics (and that she hasn't ruled out competing in Tokyo). Can you imagine anything more inspiring to her son than seeing his mom work at what she loves? What a legacy.

Becoming a mom changed and challenged me more than I knew it could. But it also brought confusion and doubt as I struggled to find my identity in my motherhood. I had always wanted children, and when I had them, I questioned whether it was also ok to want other things as well. Was I only a mom? What about who I was before? What about what I did before? Was it ok to still spend time on myself? Was it acceptable to follow pursuits that had nothing to do with my children?

We moms are super hard on ourselves, but we can also be super hard on each other. Some say becoming a mom means forgetting about yourself and the things you want, focusing solely on your children. Others say that to be the best mother possible, it's important that you nurture yourself and continue in the things you love.

I can't tell you what's right for you, but I'm telling you what's possible. It's possible to be a mom AND.

The Olympians told me so.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Love, No Matter What

Yesterday, Travis Blanks, a former Clemson football player who played for the national championship against Alabama, spoke at my church and blew me away. He touched on a lot of timely topics and super-important issues we face in this country, but one line he spoke keeps bouncing around in my skull:

"Love will never be the incorrect response."

I scribbled it in my journal and buried it in my heart, because the truth of those words is to be at the core of every believer's response and behavior, regardless of the circumstance.
For far too many of us, judgment and criticism are the hallmarks of our lives. We as a people are known for what we hate, what we condemn, what (and whom) we stand against. When - and why? - did we stop being known for being loving and generous? Kind and forgiving? Accepting and inclusive?

Maybe because it's easier to hate than to love. Maybe because our first response is to criticize and condemn, and it takes so much more effort and intention to show mercy and grace with no strings attached. Maybe because it's easier to see the plank in others' eyes instead of the speck in our own.

But here's the thing for those of us who call ourselves believers. If we choose this life, then as Travis said, "There's a price we have to pay when we walk with Jesus. When you profess Jesus, you no longer have the right to choose who you love."

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and he explained that everyone is our neighbor. Regardless of race. Class. Gender. Financial status. Living arrangements. Background. Addictions. Struggles.

We each are created in the image of God, and each of us is deserving of and in desperate need of the love of other image-bearers.

Listen, I struggle with this. It's never easy to look at someone whose faults are on display and choose love over judgment. It's not easy to look at someone you know is in rebellion against God and choose love over condemnation. It's not easy to look at someone you have been taught is in a different class than you are and choose love over rejection.

It's never easy, but it's required. It is a command, and it is black and white. 1 John 4:8 says, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." Whenever I choose a response other than love, I am acknowledging that I don't know God as I think (and say) I do. If I know God, I can only choose love. If I am God's, I love. Period.

Love doesn't mean you approve of wrong behavior. Love doesn't mean you withhold truth. Love doesn't mean you ignore addictions and accept sin. It means that in the midst of all those things, you believe in the inherent value of the person and choose to draw them closer to God through your own love. Your love is to be a mirror of the Father's love until that person knows His love personally.

I'm challenged by this. I'm convicted by this. And today I'm choosing to be changed by this.

Love. No matter what.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It's Go Time, Teachers

It's that time again, teachers. The first days of school. Time to morph back into "Mr" and "Mrs," time to set the alarm to rise before the sun, and time to wear make-up and real shoes.

It's time to get back to packing lunches, time to retrain your bladder, and time to learn many, many new names.

It's time to be on your feet for 8 hours, time to ration your copies, and time to remember just who you are.

You're a teacher, doggone it, and it's go time. It's time to begin the making of magic that only teachers armed with glue guns and inspired by Pinterest can make.

It's time to prove to the Trump children of the world that our schools are not "department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers," because as anyone who walks into a school will see, the long hours and dollars spent and lessons planned are surely not just for the benefit of "the clerks." The technology training and curriculum adoption and blood-borne pathogen videos are not just for teacher entertainment.

For the first time in a long time, teachers, I will be watching from afar. I will not be setting up a classroom and welcoming students myself, and although I know it's the right choice, I also know I'm indescribably sad. I figured out why, too. It's because what you're about to do every single day is sacred.

Yes, it's hard. And it's draining and stressful and full of red tape and scrutinized. But what you do - what you GET to do - is sacred. You are given an opportunity that few other professions ever have. The opportunity to change - literally change - the world. And it starts sometimes with changing yourself and your perspective.

So here is what I want to say to you as someone who is watching from afar with a heart still incredibly near:

You've got this. The nerves and anxiety will tell you otherwise, but you can do exactly what needs to be done this year. More and more is being piled on you, and you will feel like buckling sometimes, but you can do this. You won't be perfect every day, and there will be some days you want to throw the alarm across the room and pull the covers back over your head. That's ok. You're human. But deep inside that teacher-heart is a reservoir for such days. Deep inside you is a lifetime's worth of preparation for a year such as this.

Each child in your room needs you. You might have tough 18 year olds who act like they need nothing, or you might have tender 3 year olds who need everything. Regardless, each child needs something, and I believe they are in your room because you can provide the something they need. Whether you actually do or not is up to you, but I'm begging you to look inside each child - look past the exterior - and really see him or her. See that child's heart and ask yourself what he needs. Remember that sometimes the ones who need you the most also try you the most. Think past the behavior to what its root might be. Investigate, explore, and ask. Sometimes we teachers forget that our students are intricately carved human beings with emotions and motivations as complicated as our own. Let this be the year you meet needs and not just standards.

We're cheering for you. I know sometimes it feels as if everyone is trashing public education and the teachers who provide it, but please don't allow the loudest naysayers to drown out the devoted supporters. We, the vast majority, are here cheering you on and are so grateful for what you do and the excellence with which you do it. We know it's exhausting (because we've had our children home all summer and struggle to keep them entertained for 30 minutes, much less multiple hours). We know you don't always have the resources you need or ideal conditions, and we know the successes you have are often in spite of your conditions, not because of them. We know that you are taking care of our babies when we're not, and we know that you are giving it your all. We know, at least most of us, and we thank you.

Teachers, good luck. Make the most of what you have and the best of what you face. Like with everything, there will be good and bad, ups and downs. There will be successes and failures, days you run in and days you run out. But no matter what, remember the simple truth that when go-time comes, you've got this.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are You Watching Me?

She kept dropping the Frisbee.

On the coast of our little state last week, my daughter and my brother tossed a Frisbee back and forth, over and over. His able hand would toss it in her direction, and her little arms would reach out but just miss catching the yellow disc. Time after time, she scooped it out of the sand and practiced throwing it with more accuracy.

And as time passed, she slowly got the hang of it. She began to catch it sometimes and throw it where she actually intended. She kept going, and she kept getting better.

I'm afraid I might have just quit.

Her gangly legs ran over to my beach chair, her little-girl voice asking, "Mommy, are you watching me?"

Yes, baby, I am.

I'm watching you rehearse your tenacity. I'm watching you swallow your frustration, and I'm watching you succeed in what you once couldn't do. I'm watching you do what I need to do.

Sometimes I want to ask, "Are you watching me?" Sometimes I want to go running over to someone and ask if their eyes see my effort. I want to know that my rehearsing, my practice, my slow-but-steady improvement is noticeable at all.

When she was throwing that Frisbee, though, she didn't do it because she knew I was watching. She didn't practice just to impress me, and my applause wasn't her goal. She just wanted to get better. She just wanted to be able to do what once was impossible.

My daughter teaches me so much.

I need reminders that the audience is not the goal. The performance is not the purpose. The praise is not the priority.

Sometimes, and more often than I'd like to admit, what really matters is the repetitive fail and succeed, drop and pick up, get frustrated and try again. What really matters is the practice behind the scenes, the brushing-the-sand-off and giving it another go. What really matters is what I do, not what those watching see.

Thanks, baby girl, for the reminder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Sacrifice Are You Not Willing to Make?

Think about what you want. What you really, really want.

I bet without much coaxing, you could make a list of things you'd love to have - or be. I bet you have dreams, both big and small, tucked away inside your heart. I bet you have goals, both lofty and mundane, on that list inside your brain. We all know what we want, even if we've never told another soul.

And yet we remain without those things. What I want us to consider is why.

Naturally, we have no control over some of the things we want. They are out of our reach or are not meant for us. But just as clearly as some things are out of our control, some things aren't. Some things we want could be ours today if we had the courage and drive to go for them.

But we don't.

Many of the things we want are on the other side of a sacrifice we'd have to make, and when it comes down to it, we aren't willing. It's easier to dream and lament and complain about our lack than it is to work for all we could gain.

I want so many things I don't have: a six pack (of abs, that is, not beer), a perpetually clean house with perpetually empty laundry baskets, home-grown produce to save both money and calories, flower beds with beautiful blooms and zero weeds...

Not one of those things is impossible, but all of those are things I don't have. The reason is simple - me. I am the reason I don't have those things, and I don't have them because I'm not willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I could have a six pack, theoretically. I'd have to work out a whole lot more and eat a whole lot less, but it's doable. I could stay caught up on laundry - if I'd rather catch up on it than episodes of Fixer Upper I've missed. I could have a garden - if I wanted to spend my time maintaining it... For every thing I wish I could have, I'd have to make a sacrifice to get it.

What I've begun to question about myself lately is whether my lack of sacrifice is a forfeit of my destiny. Are there things the Lord desires for my life that will only come if I give up what doesn't really matter? Our best will arrive only when we relinquish our grip on the good. Good might prevent best. Comfort might block destiny.

What do you need to give up today to walk into what's meant to be yours? Sleep? Food? Relationships? Self-hatred? Mindless television watching? A critical spirit? A job? Over-spending?

The interesting thing is that we all have something - likely many things - we could (and should) give up. The reality, though, is that most of us won't. We want the comfort of what we know. We want the easiest option, which is to stay as we are. We say we'll start tomorrow. We assume we'll fail anyway, so we refuse to even start.

We make a thousand excuses, but we really just make the path we're intended to follow that much further away.

I'm tired of sabotaging my own life. I'm tired of assuming the worst and settling for it. I'm tired of watching others achieve their goals and thinking they know some secret I don't.

You want to know their secret? Hard work. Sacrifice. Giving up something now for something greater in the future.

It's really no secret at all. It's just hard. Today, I'm embracing hard.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Moms: You Need to Take a Break

When did women not taking care of themselves become a badge of honor? When did it become admirable for a woman to bemoan having no time to herself, no time to enjoy her husband, no time to do anything she wants?

I don't like a world where self-destruction is revered.

Confession time: I sacrifice time with my family to work out. I let my kids watch TV so I can read a book without pictures. I leave my children with my husband and go to dinner with my girlfriends. I leave my children with their grandparents so I can go to dinner with my husband. I lock them outside to play with all the toys we spent all the money on so I can eat a brownie in peace and quiet!!! (Mine are 9 and 10, so they are perfectly fine - don't question my parenting. I didn't do it when they were 2 and 3. Much.)

In other words, I make a habit of taking care of myself. Call me selfish, but it's what I need to stay sane. You ultra-moms out there who are convinced 5 minutes to yourself is a luxury you can't afford? You WILL burn out. Trust me on this one. You will get bitter and tired and everyone around you will pay. The martyr complex needs to go and you need to cry uncle. Ask for help. There's no shame in that game.

Your kids will not suffer a lifetime of debilitating sadness because you locked the door and took a bubble bath. They won't need therapy because you weren't there one night to read Green Eggs and Ham. (You might need therapy, though, if you have to read it one more time, Sam I Am.) It's OK - and good! - for you to be just you for a few minutes. Being a mom is exhausting, and if it's all you let yourself be, you'll forget who you are without them. There is nothing more destructive to a child than a mom who doesn't know her identity.  

If you are a mom to little-bitties, I get it. It's much harder to get time to yourself when you are the food source and you are the waste management system and you are the protector of things falling on their heads. But it's even more important for you to get a break, because those little-bitties are leeches who will suck the very life right out of you. They will demand more and more and more because they don't understand that you and they are separate bodies of matter. It is your job to teach them. Teach them well, my dear friends. Teach them well.

Go do it. Right now. Either take or schedule a mommy time-out, and let me know how it goes. I guarantee you'll feel better - and be a better mommy - when you have. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When Churches Silently Spread Hate

I'm so afraid that the church - the broad, nationwide collection of believers who amass to worship and grow - has contributed to a society where wrong is ignored and people are marginalized and hate is fanned into flame. Not in sermons preached from the pulpit, necessarily, and not in words from hate-mongering pastors, but in the quietly obvious lack of love and acceptance and true ministering to souls whose default is sin.

We are all messed up people, sinners in need of redemption, and we all have an equally deep need for the mercy of the Savior who passionately loves us and completely forgives us. But in looking at the church, it's often hard to see that we messed up people are equal and that the church loves us all as equally as the One we worship does. 

The church, I'm afraid, doesn't reflect Christ. The church, I'm afraid, reflects the racism and classicism and sexism of its society.

I have spent years worshiping in churches where every member looked just like me. White, middle class, steady job and active 401k. I have worshiped in churches where people whisper if a black man walks in and are offended more by a person's clothing choices than the hypocrisy in their own judgment. I have worshiped in churches who marginalize the downtrodden instead of lifting them like brothers, who develop programs to benefit their country club atmospheres and leave the hungry starving in the streets. If the world has diversity, how can the church not? If Jesus loved everyone, how can we refuse?

Praise God I now worship in a church where I don't only see myself reflected. I worship with brothers and sisters whose lives look nothing like mine, with people who spent years living in prisons, with people who understand that grace really is amazing and really is for everyone.

It has taken me a long time to realize that perhaps we have created an image of God who is nothing like the One who is. We worship a God who thinks like us and looks like us and makes us comfortable in the sameness of our pews, when the real God, the true God of the faith we ought to profess is saddened at the narrow-mindedness of our homogeneous gatherings and outraged at our disregard of the command to love all his people.  

The news today saddens me. Another black man gunned down by white cops. More white people suggesting he must have deserved it. Another community asking when it will end.

Church, what will be our answer? Will we love, or will we judge? The two are mutually exclusive. A father is dead, a family is mourning, and I have seen people suggesting he got what he deserved - these words coming out of the mouths of those who will "worship" on Sunday. Don't fall into the trap, church. Call what is wrong, wrong, and shower love on hurting people. Do what Christ would do. Anything else is contrary to what you profess.

I wasn't there when Alton Sterling was shot, and I don't know all that happened. But what I do know is enough to be angry, saddened, and burdened. The church's only move in this situation is to love - to show compassion, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to shine light where darkness reigns. Darkness reigns in the world, but let's refuse to let it reign in us. Let's be the church Jesus would recognize, not a church worshiping a created god of sameness and silent hate. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Value of an Unscheduled Summer

Every morning, my daughter wakes up and immediately asks, "What are we going to do today?" (She's the curious one in the family, the one who must be in the know. My son never asks - we can be driving down the interstate, halfway to our destination, before he wonders where we're going and what we're doing. Their personalities could not be more different.)

Listen, I don't fault her for wanting to know. When you're the shortest one in the house, at the mercy of the licensed drivers and decision makers, it's only natural to be curious about what's coming next. But this summer, the question "what are we going to do today" has come to mean something entirely different.

And I despise it.

It means, "Mom, what fun, exciting, thrill-seeking, never-done-before activity have you spent weeks planning (and a small fortune on) for us to do?" 

Here's the thing. I don't subscribe to the theory that my job as a mother is to make my children's every waking moment magical. Yeah, I want them to have fun and enjoy the relaxation that summer brings, BUT. I refuse to spend every moment of my life in a carefully choreographed dance of "entertain the children" and "spend vast amounts of money on experiences they won't really appreciate."

I've got stuff to do. 

Plus, I just want to lay on the couch and read a book. The children have rooms full of books and a playroom full of toys and a yard full of trees and sticks. They can invent their own fun. What ever happened to that kind of summer? 
You know what I remember about being a kid? Playing capture the flag with the neighborhood kids. Hiding treasures in the knotholes of trees in our woods. Catching lightning bugs on hot summer nights. I distinctly remember roller-skating over sheets of bubble wrap on our driveway. I don't remember my mom dressing us in expensive coordinating outfits, schlepping us to an unbelievable list of activities planned for each day. 

Mom did her thing - laundry, cleaning up messes, yelling at us to close the door - and we did our thing. You know what was amazing about being a child in the '80s? We were allowed to get bored. Our parents didn't feel like failures if we complained there was nothing to do. They just told us to go find something. They knew the value of little humans figuring out how to entertain themselves. (They either knew it or just didn't care that we weren't entertained. In either case, we could learn a thing or two from our old-school parents. Their lives didn't revolve around whether or not their offspring were content.) 

Nobody back then threw a tablet in front of our faces if we started whining, nor did they meticulously arrange our enviable social lives. (Side note - they also didn't throw a tablet or phone or any other electronic device in front of our faces if we couldn't sit still at a meal. They took us in the bathrooms and whipped our tails and we learned to sit still at a meal. As a result, we can now eat with other human beings and have conversations like civilized people. Thank goodness there was no technology when I was a child. But I digress.)

We played in the summer. End of story. If we got bored, we figured it out. We took one big trip, if we were lucky. Our parents weren't our cruise directors, and we're better today for it.

My years as a high school teacher have proved to me that children who are the center of their universe and whose entertainment has been the only purpose of their lives ultimately turn out to be poorly adjusted young adults who legitimately have trouble doing anything for themselves. They struggle in relationships with adults, they struggle in relationships with peers, and they struggle in academics. Nothing about a child being the highly entertained center of his own universe is a good thing in the long run. 

What's more, if we teach children (explicitly or even accidentally) that life is only about fun, we will have a generation of people pursuing only their own desires. Sacrifice will be an antiquated idea, and hard workers will be hard to find. 

This summer, we will have fun. We'll go to the lake and go to the pool, see movies and eat icees, and we'll take day trips and go to the beach. We'll watch fireworks and play in the sprinkler and catch lightning bugs. But we'll also get bored. We'll do chores and clean the house and probably have some arguments. Summer will be fun, but it won't just be an expensive attempt to prevent boredom. It won't revolve solely around what the kids will find entertaining, and it won't always look great on social media. But maybe our summer will help, in a small way, the kids be better people.

Monday, June 27, 2016

For the Mom Who Feels Like the Worst

The other night, I had myself a little hissy fit.

The house was empty except for me, so I had a good cry - the kind where it's hard to breathe and you make strange, unintelligible noises.



All I could see in those moments were my failures and shortcomings, the problems I face and the circumstances that overwhelm.

My mothering life is likely different from yours. I am divorced and remarried, so custody arrangements and visitation schedules, especially during the summer, are inescapable truths. Our schedule is a finely tuned instrument requiring coordination and calendars, planning and production. And though it looks nice and neat on the calendar, it is its own special hell for me.

It means that I, a mommy, am sometimes without my children. Those blue cells on the calendar represent nights, and during the summer, weeks, without those who grew within me. I cannot explain the agony.

My tears were set off by a sweet night with my sisters. We - and their children - met for ice cream. But my own children weren't there, and it hurt. I just wanted to be "normal," yelling at my kids not to get too close to the road and cleaning up their ice cream drips on the picnic table. But my life is different, and I was reminded that night I cannot change what I did not choose. It's a hard lesson to learn.

You might not understand the specific struggles I face, but your mothering has its own special hell, too, I'm sure.

We mothers all want to do a good job, whatever that actually means. We want our children to feel loved and secure, to have all they need, to be prepared to confidently leave us when that time comes. But none of these desires comes with a clear road map, and each day we mother requires us to navigate a path we've never walked down before. Each child we mother requires re-learning what we thought we already knew. Each moment requires patience and presence when we sometimes just want to escape.

Mothering, in every form, is really hard, and it's a task you never really know if you're doing well. It's a long-term investment with short-term agony.

Whatever it is that makes you feel less-than as a mom today, know this: you have everything you need to be the mom your kids need. They were given to you because you are equipped to mother their hearts and raise them to be the adults they are intended to be.

Your circumstances might be incredibly difficult, and your life might be the exact opposite of how you wish it were. From a human perspective, the list of what you lack might be greater than what you have. You may lie in bed at night replaying all you did wrong, but there's always one thing you do right - you love them with every beat of your heart.

Give yourself grace today, mom. No, you are not perfect. You are far from it, and you fail in many ways. There is always more of you that's needed, and there's never enough of you present. But none of that means you are a failure as a mom. None of that means you should throw in the towel and quit giving what you can. You are not perfect, but you are perfectly capable of being the mother you are supposed to be.

Maybe you, too, need to have a good hissy fit. A good cry can cleanse the soul. Cry it out, let it out, and then pick yourself up. Mothering was never intended to be rainbows and butterflies. It was intended to be the hard work of raising strong, intelligent, determined people who know why and by whom they were created.

You can do this, mom.

Get back at it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I'm Quitting Teaching

After nine years in a classroom, I'm leaving education. 

I will walk out of my empty room on Tuesday with books packed away and memories stored in my heart, leaving behind hundreds of adolescents who walked through the door looking for what they didn't know they needed.

Honestly, I don't know if I gave them anything.

I tried really hard, that's for sure. I wrote curriculum and read professional books and took classes to get better.

I read adolescent novels and included the classics and tried to teach them some grammar.

But as far as what they got? Who really knows. That's the agonizing peculiarity of education. You never really know how you did, even with test scores and data being thrown all around. You never really know if you made an impact that will be remembered beyond the last day of school. You never really know.

I sure don't.

If you're looking for a diatribe against the American education system, you won't find it here. I have a lot of thoughts on our system and a lot I think needs to be changed, but I'll keep those thoughts inside until the time is right to voice them.

Here's what I do know: I can't stay.

Not because I hate teaching or because I believe the system is irreparably broken. Not because I'm tired of the kids or frustrated with changing standards.

No, I'm leaving because God has made it clear it's time for me to do something else. I've tried to help my students uncover their passions, and I've encouraged them to follow their hearts. I guess I'm finally taking my own advice.

I'm going to be a writer.

It sounds so foreign to my ear to say it out loud, like I might as well be saying I'm joining the circus to become a clown. But I am going to write, so that makes me a writer, I guess.

The Lord awoke a desire in me about four years ago to share His heart and redemptive power through my words, and every day since then has pushed me to this place, the place where I confirm my belief in His call and my belief in His provision.

There's a lot I don't know yet, like how exactly to be a writer. (A minor detail, I'm sure). I'm just going to write what He reveals, and I'll share how I can. I don't know how to operate without a bell schedule releasing me to use the bathroom, and I don't know how to stop pinning lesson plan ideas while I'm scrolling through Pinterest.

I don't know, but I'll learn. I'm moving from being the experienced teacher to a novice student again, but I've never been more excited (and thoroughly terrified). A part of me I didn't know was sleeping has now been awakened, and it's as if I'm seeing everything through new eyes. I've come to a place where I can't not do what He has clearly called and confirmed. I feel, like Esther, I was made for such a time as this. It's now or never. Trust and obey. Look and still leap.

Some people have said to me, "I admire your courage!" Truthfully, I'm not feeling particularly courageous most days. Often I feel selfish and confused and overwhelmed and simply amazed that God would even ask me to do anything for Him.

But He did, so I am. And I'm encouraging you to do the same.

For those of you protecting a dream in your heart that you're afraid will never be a reality... 

Keep dreaming. 

Keep praying. 

Keep practicing

It may take years, but if you beg God to take the desire away and it only comes through stronger, you'll know. You'll know He heard you, and you'll know that eventually, in His time, He will set everything in motion. He did for me, and I'm trusting He will continue.

So for now, I ask for your prayers. Pretty soon, I'll be asking for your stories! I long to give you words you need to hear, and there would be no higher honor than for me to write about what you need. Words have power and stories give life, and the new focus of my days is to share power-imparting and life-giving stories with you. I think the teacher in me will always be around, sharing where I've been and what I know with those who need it. I pray my words will, somehow, give you something you need. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Is Being a Woman Still a Liability?

I just don't get it.

It's the year 2016, people. Twenty. Sixteen.

And yet here we are, with being female still being a hardship. A liability. A handicap, if you will.

Today, the home page of a major news organization carried the headline, "Cheerleading Team Nixes Tryout Tips After Outcry."

Here's  what this university - this institution of higher learning - values in its representatives: a "beachy glow." Hair with "volume." And don't leave out the all-important "false lashes." In other words, everything opposite of who we women really are when we wake up in the morning. Don't lose sight that the girl in the picture is also blonde and skinny. Two more traits that make a girl have the valued "look."

Makes me want to puke.

This week, I had a man suggest that my skirt was too short. It hit my knees. My knees. A man with whom I've had maybe two conversations in my life. A man who was bothered by the fact that my scandalous and I suppose seductive kneecaps were showing. Excuse me? First, who do you think you are? The clothes police? You have no legitimate reason to discuss anything with me, most especially the length of my skirt. Which hit my knees. Second, be glad I was too shocked to say or do what later occurred to me to say and do. We'd both be in worse shape than we are now.

This week, too, I read that a presidential candidate said another presidential candidate is only viable because she has the "women's card. She has got nothing else going." Here's the truth. I'm not a fan of either of these people, but for real? The only thing she's got - the only reason people are voting for her - is her gender? The implication is that we women are so uninformed, unintelligent, and thoughtless that we only cast votes for women because they're women? Further, the only value this woman herself has is her gender? She has done nothing in her life except flaunt her chromosomal makeup?

Give me a break. Her accomplishments, even if I disagree with them, are in spite of her gender, not because of it. I guarantee she's had to work twice as hard to prove her worth because of people who think her only worth is in her beachy glow and false lashes.

I'm just so sick of the double standard. I'm tired of seeing women - both those I know and those I don't - being treated as inferior because of their femininity. I'm tired of being told I can't because I'm a woman and then seeing someone who can just because he's a man. I'm tired of women with voices being called pushy and women with opinions being called loud. I'm tired of the assumption that I'm weak and ignorant. I'm tired of my value lying in what I can cook and how I can decorate and if I got my body back after baby.

We women are not accessories. We are not stupid. We are certainly not inferior. What year will it be when we as a society finally realize this?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

To You, As You Test, From Your Teacher

I saw your hands tremble as you reached for the test. Your face displayed confidence, but your hands showed your heart. 

You're nervous, and I get it. You've worked hard and studied often, and you just want this test to show it. 

To you, right now, this score is everything. The score represents you, on a 10 point scale. It is your worth, from A to F. It is what matters, written in red.


But sweet child, it's really not. It's really not everything. It's far from your worth, and even coming from your teacher, it's not what matters. It's just a test.

What matters is what I've seen in you and from you during these weeks. The attention you've given, the details you've pored over, and the effort you've given. What really matters is the character you've shown as you've readied for the test and the perseverance you've had as you pursued what I taught.

This test? It's just a snapshot. It's just a one-time indication of how you did one time you answered some questions. That's it. That's all. Nothing more.

When you get your score back, I pray it's what you wanted. But if not? It's OK, because you - the value of who you are - could never be captured in one little number. You are more than an A and more than an F. You are a diligent chaser of the best you can be, and when scores come back and papers are filed, that's how I'll remember you. That is who you really are. Remember it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

This Life Thing is Hard

I want it all to be easier.

I want to wake up in the morning, choose my path, and do what I love.

I want the decisions to be obvious, the money to be readily available, the children to be always obedient.

I want the fighting to stop, the politicians to be good, the heart not to hurt.

I want to float through life, not fight through it.

I want Eden. I want Heaven. I want them here.


Here is fallen. Here is hard. Here hurts.

Here, people betray those they pledge to love. Here, bodies break and brains deteriorate. Here, children die and hearts break.

Here, this life thing is hard.

But, mercifully, here is not hopeless. Here, in the hardship, is Jesus. Here, in the hurt, the Holy Spirit intercedes. Here, in the hostility, is God.

This week, especially, the hard and hurt have been loud. This week, all around, I see pain and hear, "Why?" Here, this week, I want what isn't, and I want what is to change.

Yet in the hard and in the hurt, light is shining. Faith is growing. Love is abundant.

And for today, for right now, that's enough.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A High Price to Pay

At 36,000 feet, you can clearly see what's not visible from the ground. Miles above the surface of the planet, everything looks different, and with no effort on your part, perspective shifts and your eyes see what was once hidden.

Difficulties are kind of like being 36,000 feet in the air.

You need to understand that I hate to fly. Hate. It. I have to be medicated and nearly crush my husband's hand during takeoff and make people around me nervous that I'm going to lose my mind. I once nearly hyperventilated on a flight from Miami, and on my last flight from Chicago, my shirt was stained with sweat rings. There is no place I hate worse than the cabin of an airplane. My most fervent prayers have been as my flights taxi towards takeoff. I pray that the rivets will hold, the crew ate a nutritious breakfast, the fuel is untainted, the tires were manufactured properly, fellow passengers have only the best intentions... No area is untouched by my prayer life when it comes to planes.

So the beauty of those pictures? There's a high price to pay for them.

There's a high price to pay for all beauty in life, though, isn't there?

No one invites difficulties or welcomes them with open arms. We pray against them and do what we can to avoid them. We want smooth sailing, life to continue as we know it, and comfort to surround us. What we think we want is safety and familiarity - the absence of hardships. What I've learned, though, and what God continues to show me is that safety and familiarity - the absence of hardships - lead only to complacency and a distorted perception of life.

We need the valleys of life to see the 36,000 foot view. The logic of God makes no sense to our humanity.

It has been in the pit - and because of it - that I have even begun to understand the glory of my redemption. It has been through the worst that I have been able to smile at the best. When life has been smooth sailing here on the surface of this planet, I have lost my desperation for my Savior and my reverence for his role. The hardest days of my life have lifted me beyond what ordinary eyes can see and have shown me the view from Up There, if only for a moment. From the depths of a depraved world, mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

To see with eyes like Christ, you might have to suffer as He did. To gain his perspective, you might need to share his pain.

And to see from 36,000 feet, you'll probably need to fly on a plane.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Your Permission Slip

Sometimes we adults need permission just like children, so here's my permission slip for your grown-up heart.

It's ok to feel what you're feeling right now.

I've been struggling lately with a lot of big feelings, and rather than lean into them and learn what they're trying to teach me, I've been running from them. Ignoring them. Denying that they're there.

But in the darkness and silence, those few minutes alone in an empty car, they cry out to me. They call my name and catch my breath and demand to be noticed. So I'm trying. It's so much easier for me, the one who flees rather than fights, to shut them out and pretend them away. But all that has left me with is unresolved sadness, unreconciled hurt, and unmet longings.

So here I am, trying to listen to what my heart needs me to hear. And I'm giving you permission to do the same. I'm also giving you permission to tell God what you feel. Yes, He knows, but I'm learning that He wants us to trust Him enough to take it to Him. All of it. Those big feelings, where you feel alone and afraid and like He loves everyone but you? Take them. Those feelings that say you'll never be good enough; those feelings that say He won't do for you what He has done for others? Take them. Those feelings that say "I'm spinning my wheels and I'm on a never-ending treadmill and my life is adding up to one big nothing?" Take them. He can handle them - and handle them, He can. When we stuff them down and pretend they're not there and smile like everything's ok? That's not handling them.

Honesty is the first step. Don't ask me how I know.

So. You, with the welling tears and the heart beating fast? Feel those feelings. Give their darkness some light. Give their secret places some visibility. Give yourself some relief. Feel them, then heal.

You have my permission.