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.