Undoing High School

photo credit: Lockers via photopin (license)
photo credit: Lockers via photopin (license)

Two Back-to-School nights, in a row. Middle school, high school. New-to-us teachers providing the brief overview of syllabus, expectations, homework. Great schools, high performing, state-ranked, solid test scores…the beginning of the Dream for our children. As parents, we do our work, raising the next generation, pushing, prodding, pulling our kids toward success. Recognizing the things we took for granted, wishing we could go back…but not really. Yikes. Those were scary years.

Opportunities unfold for them. Our love demonstrated through the provision of resources, seeking the best, giving endlessly, sacrificially. Like anyone else, I love my kids. I want them to take advantage of the resources at their fingertips, the knowledge available. But I must ask myself…where is the line between providing opportunity and pushing to get ahead?

We live in a culture of scarcity, we firmly believe opportunities are finite. The best slices of the pie will not be available to all. If I don’t get my piece while it’s fresh, I will only receive stale crummy bits. And yes, this is true for many in our country and world. But in my corner of middle class America, there are options, overwhelming options. It is tempting and easy to fall prey to fear. Fear my children will not get ahead, or have access to certain things if I don’t make it happen, if I don’t pressure them.

When they were small, when I could force and bribe them to do things, the quest beckoned. What do they love? Where are they gifted? What is his/her thing? The one thing that they will excel at, that will bring notoriety, admiration, notice?

People want to be noticed, achieve excellence, rise to the top. Winning, comparing, one-upping. Worth, value determined by how we measure up against our peers. My worth, my value determined by who will stop and talk to me. Am I recognized? Am I in? Scarcity. Not enough to go around. Afraid I am not enough.

Brene Brown in Daring Greatly beautifully addresses this:

Scarcity is the “never enough” problem. Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.

What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions to perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it.

I can easily get stuck in high school thinking. I return to base mode, to the default setting where my ego, my performance, my self must be fed. I allow my insecurities far too much power, fearing my purpose, yearning to fill the emptiness that piggybacks upon my worthiness. This insecurity short-circuits access to giftedness. I am unable to live in my uniquely created self, for I am preoccupied with defense, with earning. Scarcity-dwelling keeps me stuck, in the muck of my perceived shortcoming and failure. Shame.

In the requirement of being the best, there is no room for good enough, which severely impairs the expression of my giftedness, of what I have been specifically entrusted. When I resort to comparisons and competition I choose to only value my gifts if they are shiny and sexy, notable. Most gifts are invisible to the naked eye, requiring time and focus to unearth and cultivate. We are each bestowed with this honor, every single person bears the image of God in some form or another, none are more important or less, given to us not to prop up ourselves, but to prop up our world. Our gifts provide the remarkable combination of giving and receiving, with great potential for joy and abundance. Service, generosity, inspiration, love are ours, through these gifts to make life better for others, to shine light, relief, hope, goodness.

When scarcity and shame are defied, put in their place, I see nature, I see good. I see and believe again in beauty. I own a deeper well of patience and understanding – able to readily give the benefit of the doubt. I accept there is more than enough to go around. Fear and hoarding no longer needed. Slices abound, delicious and fresh accompanied perfectly by healthy doses of ice cream. No more do I have to limp through the race of endlessly striving, trying to reach the invisible line of arrival. Arrival is for the surrendered, given to those who choose intentionally to step off, relinquish, releasing the grip of keeping up.

Trusting in the possibility of abundance is risky. Vulnerability will drop you to your knees. Exposure is terrifying. But until I release the vice-grip of proving, seeking worth through accomplishment, I will live in scarcity. I will unintentionally dwell in shame.

I long for true honesty, where I may express my failures and my successes. I pray I can hear another’s successes and not be threatened, another’s failures and not rejoice. I hope we will recognize the importance of living well these lives we’ve been given, sharing together without fear of threat.

Gifts are given and they are received. Our true gifts, when given and received, radiate around the world, providing blessing in places that have been dried up and abandoned by good. May we seek to live fully into ourselves, generosity abounding, knowing we are loved beyond measure, extending that same love out and beyond, witnessing exponential growth beyond our wildest dreams.

Stretch marks are not just for bellies.

photo credit: banded rubber via photopin (license)
photo credit: banded rubber via photopin (license)
Nothing brings out my mother insecurity like the start of school. The kids gone all day: self sufficient, learning, living their teenage lives. I know they need parents, they need me, but the work has changed.

I insert myself here and there, especially when the red flags are waving, but for the most part, particularly with my olders, the stage is set. Independence reigns, responsibilities known (not always accomplished), accountability necessary.  They need their parents, we know this. No longer are we managing basic needs.

I find myself confused, as a stay-at-home parent. I love answering only to myself, a quiet house with time to get things done, exercise, write, clean, visit with friends, lunch with Eric. I am available to help. All of this wonderful, a true gift, not taken lightly. All allowing me to be the family’s undergirding, an essential and life-giving role.

The mother-insecurity curls and winds up and through my being when I consider what I might be missing…a career, paycheck, goals outside of these four walls. I relish my work as a wife and mother, but I have made sacrifices. I cannot, with abandon, pursue all goals. Much of what I choose must be weighed, measured, considered. Potential impact studied.

I struggle with why this is. Why do I feel passionate about so little, about things that will not garner a paycheck? My work is thinking. If I got paid for thinking, for mulling, for considering I’d be rolling in it. I don’t love busy, I don’t need busy to define my value. I know my energy level is finite. The last thing I want to do is make my family pay because I’m worn. These days are so short, the time limited before they hopefully leave the nest.

When I gave birth to these babies, I bonded, I smelled, I fed, all while sacrificing my own resources. I was stretched, the return to old or former, impossible. Comfort had to be newly defined. No longer was my life my own. I was changed. Myself was set aside for the survival of the most helpless of creatures, my basic needs no longer an entitlement.

Now, I’m able to regain some of what I gave up. But I am a mother, I’m not the same person. I have borne bodies from mine. I have lost precious hours of sleep. My heart now walks around outside my body…times three. The level of vulnerability required is often too much. As a balloon is nearly impossible to blow the first time, the second is a breeze. When one is stretched and pulled they do not return to original, to same.

My new normal means I have to dwell in tension. The tension between parenting, staying solid in my marriage and becoming the person I was made to be, knowing that life as I know it is constantly shifting about. Things rarely static. Negotiation and change are my new normal, my new expectation.

Good parents work themselves out of a job. Good parents provide the framework and boundary structure for children to make mistakes, to fail, to succeed. I’m still in the trenches, but the battles are different. The work is strategic, supervisory, foundational, teaching…no longer about food groups, going potty, warm or matching clothing. We are now on the mission of raising adults, respectable, kind, generous, thoughtful adults operating out of character and integrity.

I know they still need their mother. They need me to be present, available, watching, sniffing. They need me asking questions and setting appropriate boundaries. They need me knowing their friends, hosting. They need me laughing, joking, crying around them. They need to see me human, flying off the handle, reconciling, forgiving. They need to see Eric and I in partnership, negotiating, communicating, setting our own boundaries, dreaming together.

None of this wins admiring accolades or Mom of the Year. I will not be revered as the amazing-mother-who-does-everything, helping at all events. I am quite selfish and selective with my six free hours, enjoying the slow pace, some days more productive than others. Naps are always a priority.

I have forever been stretched. I know sleepless nights will be my companion for the rest of my days. The tension of making it about me, or making it about them will never end. And a day is potentially on the horizon where truly I will not be needed.

Ultimately, to be honest, my hope is they will still need me, in some form, even if they must manufacture a job description.

We Find our Path by Walking

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We find our path by walking, said Maya Angelou to her protege, Tavis Smiley.

We find our path by walking.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find our path with our feet up, remote in hand, surfing the internet? Wouldn’t it be great if we could find our path in the comfort of our homes and cars, humming refrigerators, cozy beds, running water? Wouldn’t it be great if our purpose was revealed to us while we were hanging with friends, drinking beer, making life a big party?

This past year, post-Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, I am a changed person. I am at a point of no return. I can not be okay with easy, comfortable. I can not be okay with a life only filled with pleasure and personal achievement. I can no longer be okay with the acquisition of the American Dream, motivated by keeping up with the Joneses and their ever-moving, advancing line.

There are too many people in our nation who do not and can not have what I have been gifted. This great land of ours built upon freedom and equality is full of individuals who have to live in daily fear of their own government. There is an entire subset of our citizenry that must have heart wrenching conversations with their teenage boys before they walk out the door, who have to say to their husbands or wives, Just come home. Please make sure you come back to me. Words spoken to precious loved ones going to the store, or school, or the park, or work, or practice, or the gym, or on a walk…not to war.

There is a record-breaking number of people being killed for no good reason. We have a systemic racism problem…many of our citizens are not given the rights of full humanity. Much of this is not discussed, for fear of our own contribution. We choose to believe, as we go about our days, our routines, our business that if THEY just did MORE – pull themselves up by the bootstraps, get educated, work, earn a decent living – we could then accept their existence, seek justification for the dying and the inordinate rate of poverty and imprisonment.

I firmly believe, until white individuals can finally take a long and hard look at our privilege…nothing will change. Until we see the negative power of our comfort, things may get worse. We need a role model, a body to go before us and show us how it’s done. I need a concrete guide to do this work. I need permission. I must have the church.

The silence of the white American church is inexcusable. We are being offered an opportunity, to empathize, to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in our nation. To pour out mercy and do the essential work of reconciliation. Many churches have chosen a side, the side of safety. Choosing not to speak, not to engage in the work of bringing justice to the hurting and the marginalized is choosing the side of the oppressor. This is truth, fact, irrefutable.

I cannot make the blind see. I cannot change the world. I cannot add to the color of my skin and fully know the pain and suffering and fear of being black in this country.  I cannot change my sexuality and understand being gay or transgender or questioning. I do not know mental illness or severe addiction.

However, I do have some puny bits of bread, a couple sad, skinny little fish, a few talents given to me by God. I can scrounge up a touch of courage, a crumb of faith, some dollars and cents. I am fairly healthy, with a waning energy level that must be fed with regular naps. I’ll turn my pockets inside out and discover a solid sense of what justice looks like, and love, and mercy. I am kind, with a nice smile and listening ear. I am registered to vote.

I want a co-op. I want a body of believers like me, of believers in right, of believers in justice and the sacredness of humanity…all humanity. I want fellow travelers, a church. I want us to combine our meager resources, come together with generosity, lighten the load, have some fun and do this essential work of love.

But instead, I get so frustrated. The discussion is minimal with no sense of urgency, let alone action. People are dying, suicide is rampant.

I need hope. Our broken people need hope.

I have no idea where to go, and I’ve been fairly dejected in recent days. I don’t want to travel the road of cynicism, anger, hopelessness. I long to be moved from my deepest places, by desire, love, compassion, empathy. Perfection cannot be expected, for this only immobilizes me.

The burden is too great, the fear is more than I can bear if I do this with guilt as my sole companion.

I must return again and again, morning by morning to surrender..to the gifts of hope, and peace, and joy. I must trust that my offering is enough..for in partnership with the Creator of my heart, soul, body, mind I am enough and I am capable of giving enough.

I choose trust. I choose to believe and know that in God, I live and move and have my being. And I must keep moving, carving, failing, falling….with humility and with great fear and trembling.

I choose to find my path by walking. Will you join me in the journey? I can’t promise comfort. I can’t promise ease. But I can promise satisfaction, the discovery of beauty and grace, wonder and lasting achievement.

Mary Oliver’s Miracle

Logos

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?

If you say the right words, the wine expands.

If you say them with love

and the felt ferocity of that love

the fish explode into many.

Imagine him, speaking,

and don’t worry about what is reality,

If you were there, it was all those things.

If you can imagine it, it is all those things.

Eat, drink, be happy.

Accept the miracle.

Accept, too, each spoken word

spoken with love.

-Mary Oliver

I was the world’s best rule follower. In first grade I risked my beloved teacher’s disapproval by secretly sneaking a Froot Loop while stringing necklaces. Sugar cereal was forbidden outside of Grandma and vacations. The temptation found me. And the time I decided the churchyard was a better place to relieve myself, than my indoor plumbing just next door. Apparently a neighbor with not enough to do tattled on me, for my mother mentioned a “little birdie” told her.

Beyond this rebellious period as a six-year-old, I can’t recall much intentional disobedience. A couple incidents lacking common sense, and probably some with iffy motives, but mostly I was a terrified, very good girl.

As a dedicated Christ-Follower, I sought with determination to do all the right things and to be amazing. I was an honors’  student, a leader at school and church, a Bible Quiz champion.

Youth group in the 80s was fraught with fear of backward playing records, Satan speaking loud and clear (?) in reverse Heavy Metal form. Movies of the Rapture and ensuing Tribulation kept me awake in a sweaty mess, praying forgiveness, believing I could be the one left behind.

The church I grew up in had a lot of “rules” or “guidelines”. The biggies were: No smoking; No drinking alcohol; No going to movies; No gambling; No dancing. I was a pro. I had these down. Eric and I attended our prom, we did not dance. The movie guideline was circumvented by VCR. I did not drink, aside from a few sips, until I was 40.

And, I went above and beyond. I memorized Scripture, had my daily quiet time (which I dreaded), listened mostly to Christian music. I led Bible Studies in college, went to church every Sunday, never skipped chapel, gave my 10% to the penny, and continued striving as a very good girl – one that a wrathful God could love. I married a Christian man. We waited to have sex until our wedding night…barely. We found a church, attending faithfully, managing our lives in a way we could earn blessing.

It all worked, until it didn’t.

In all that earning and proving and trying I never knew God. Guilt was my constant companion, rarely measuring up, despite the rule following. I may have felt good at the end of the day, with my self sacrifice and righteousness, but the sun always goes down, and it always comes up, another list, another requirement, another effort…constant effort.

Where was the beauty, the mystery, the fullness, the freedom? All the things Jesus talks about…

Somewhere beginning in my early thirties, I discovered grace. I experienced redemption, messing up, coming back, returning humbly each day after admitting defeat and recognizing the mercy of a new day, a new start, fresh chances. Forgiveness. God showed up in the largest and smallest of places, my food, and sat with me.

I read these words of Mary Oliver, and I look at the language. The generosity of prose, the invitation to truly put myself where I not only hear Jesus, but I feel him, his words, his language spoken to me, to us. The power of love, the ferocity and necessity. The miracle that is in that moment, that follows of exponential multiplication. Eat, drink, be happy. In the simplest of actions, we are invited to experience that power, that beauty, that abundance. For there is love in the freedom. There is grace in the moment, of filling our bellies.

Accept the miracle. Accept, too, each spoken word spoken with love. I don’t see a life lived by fear or control. I don’t see a call to living a life of fear or control. I see opportunity and hope and joy. Freedom.

Jesus, the perfect example, our charge as Christians to be like him, was the perfect leader. When asked by Peter how many times to “forgive a brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus counters, “..not seven times, but seventy seven times.” (Matthew 17:21) A good leader only asks of his people to do what he himself has done. Jesus forgives eternal times, we are asked to do the same. However, I recognize, my greatest enemy is usually myself. Extending forgiveness, grace to me, and accepting forgiveness, grace. How much of our proving, controlling, perfection is our need to prove we are worthy of grace and forgiveness? And how much of our church culture continues to perpetuate this unwittingly?

What if, and I know this is hard, we let go of the striving? What if we lived motivated by love…not only towards others, but towards ourselves? What if that love looked like letting ourselves off the hook? With a trigger, my initial response is typically perfection or doubling down.  If I don’t control food and exercise I’ll gain 50 pounds, or my kids will run amok, or my house will fall apart, or my husband will leave me. But I think it’s in this letting go, prying our fingers off, releasing and re-releasing and re-re-releasing that we just might get a glimpse of Mary Oliver’s miracle.

When that familiar icy grip attempts to clench our soul, if we can take a thorough look at what we control and why, dredge up the past violations, inspect, seek healing through honest work and move towards forgiveness…over and over and over again…I know we will find that abundance, the fullness, the call to freedom.

We cling to the words of Jesus, inviting us to lay it down, calling us to accept the beautiful goodness of life in partnership with him. Accepting his spoken words, spoken in the fullest love.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)