Thursday, July 30, 2015

Old Hag - When Whispered Lies Are Louder than Truth

She looked beautiful, and I resented her for it.

The picture posted on social media twisted my heart in such a vise that at first I couldn't identify why I was suddenly angry and simultaneously needing to cry. Everything in the picture screamed out at me, "Look at what she has! Look at all you're not." Her outfit was form-flattering (and clearly not from Target), her gorgeous hair looked like she had just come from the salon, and even her house in the background looked like part of a photo shoot.

Meanwhile, I had just seen in my own bathroom mirror the stretch marks on my hips, the distribution of pounds that gravity clearly was having its way with, and the gray hair that grows with reckless abandon.

I felt like an old hag, truth be told, and her beauty pointed its finger in my face.

"You're ugly," it whispered. "Why do you even bother? It'll never be enough. You'll never be enough. You're old, you're past your prime, and her type of beauty is what people want to see."

I don't even know her well, this beauty whose picture mocked me. Yet in that moment I allowed Satan's whispers of my perceived inadequacy to turn my heart against her.

Why do I give Instagram the power to shame me when I've done nothing wrong? Why does social media get to tell me what I'm worth?

                                                                          *******
I read the words her fingers had typed, and rather than being thankful her thoughts had reached my heart, I sank into sadness that she had penned them instead of me. I looked back over her previous posts, and the more I read, the more discouraged I became. 

I felt like a failure as a writer, truth be told, and her success mocked my longings to write and be heard.

"You're not talented," it whispered. "Why do you even bother? It'll never be enough. You'll never be enough. You're mediocre, you're dreaming foolish dreams, and her words are what people really want to hear."

I don't know her at all, this writer whose words mocked me. Yet in that moment I allowed Satan's whispers of my perceived inadequacy to turn my heart against her.

Why do I allow the successes of others to make me feel like a failure? Why does a comparison game get to tell me what I'm worth?

                                                                         *******

I looked around the conference room as hundreds of chatting women took their seats. Professionally dressed and perfectly made-up, they looked so poised and confident. Meanwhile, I was fighting a lump in my throat and had already texted my husband, "I'm ready to come home." I felt like an outsider, a feeling that took me back to third grade awkwardness.

I didn't belong, at least not in my head, and that's all that mattered in the moment.

I felt invisible, truth be told, and their self-confidence laughed at my knocking knees.

"You aren't worth seeing," it whispered. "Why do you even bother? It'll never be enough. You'll never be enough. You're forgettable, you're nothing special, and there's no room here for you."

I don't know their names, those women whose self-assurance mocked me. Yet in that moment I allowed Satan's whispers of my perceived inadequacy to turn my heart against them.

Why do I allow my perceptions to become my reality? Why do whispered lies get to tell me what I'm worth?

                                                                      *******

One of Satan's greatest ploys in the lives of women is to convince us that we are unimportant, ineffective, and irrelevant. And because he knows our individual weaknesses, he knows exactly where to strike. He whispers his venomous untruths into the areas we hold most sacred - our dreams, our worth, our relationships...

His lies are rarely outlandish. If they were, we would recognize them as such and call his bluff. Instead, he combines his lies with the truth we haven't cemented in our hearts and causes us to question whether anything is really true. He is a roaring lion stalking us so silently we often don't hear his sneak attacks.

I wish I had a surefire solution for you. I'd love to tell you I've solved my problem of listening to whispered lies, but then I'd be a liar myself. I'm still working on it, and these are the verses I'm praying.

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

My task (and yours)? Lay aside the encumbrances - those comparisons and small untruths that can derail us. Lay them aside, giving them no weight in our lives. Lay them aside, moving them out of the path that contains "the race that is set before us." My race doesn't look like yours - and it doesn't look like those of the people I compare myself with. Lay aside the encumbrances and then, just this: fix our eyes on Jesus. When our gaze is on Him and Him alone, we don't have the need to look around us at others. We don't have the desire to one-up anyone - we only desire to lift Him up.

Jesus is the author of our faith, but He is also its perfecter. Our faith in its beginning is rudimentary - incomplete, immature, and as imperfect things often are, inaccurate. Only Jesus can sustain our faith and deepen it, bringing it to maturity and, ultimately, perfection. When whispered lies become our truths, we are pushing aside Jesus' perfecting power and choosing to encounter encumbrances and sin.

Jesus wants to speak to you today and every day and to replace the lies with truth. Donald Miller says, "God's involvement in our lives is often obvious when we look back. The trick is to believe He's involved right now." That's the only secret I have - believing Him in the now. Look for Him in the now, listen to Him in the now, and allow every now to be filled with His truth.


Linking up today at christianmommyblogger,com 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wordy Wednesday: To Read or Not to Read

I love books.



I love how word-magicians weave their words into sentences we've never seen and cause us to think what we've never thought before. I love to hold a book - made of paper and ink - and circle the phrases that punch me in the gut. I love to reread familiar stories and see what I missed before.

I love books.




Here are my thoughts on some I've read this summer.
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. If you work with children in any capacity, you must read this one. My favorite part was all about rats (which you might think are totally disconnected from human children other than the messes they make, but you would be wrong. Fascinating stuff). Two groups of baby rats (pups) were studied, and the astounding finding was that pups who were licked and groomed by adult rats after highly stressful events performed better on subsequent tests. "They were better at mazes. They were more social. They were more curious. They were less aggressive. They had more self-control. They were healthier. They lived longer" (30). The implication for humans is that nurturing in early childhood - regardless of whether it comes from a biological parent or not - sets us up for success in multiple areas later. What did this book teach me? That I need to be a mama rat for my own pups and those under my influence. Worth your money? Oh yeah.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This fictional story is one that slowly builds and gradually gives details that mess with your mind. Reminiscent of Gone Girl (but not nearly as exciting), it's about a girl named Rachel who rides a train past the homes of people she feels like she knows. She becomes involved in a criminal investigation related to the people in the homes, and you're left wondering what in the world is going on. I know this all seems kind of vague, but it has to be. If I tell you much more, it'll be too much. The bottom line? Entertaining if you have hours to kill on the beach, but I would check it out from the library rather than spend my money on it. 
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Oh, this one. Don't let its thickness deter you. Read this one, and then read it again. The story's protagonist Marie-Laure is blind, and her father helps her learn the set-up of their neighborhood by building mini replicas. She and her father have to run away to her great-uncle's house after the Nazis invade Paris, and there's the added drama that they might have with them a jewel that brings danger and incredible value. Werner, an orphan who ends up in the Hitler youth because of his knack for radios, eventually crosses paths with Marie-Laure. It's a heartbreaking, beautiful story. Worth the time and money? Every bit.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Y'all. I can't even. Look, I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, and if I have another child, my husband will have to pin me down to keep from using Scout somewhere in the name. Atticus is the most perfect fictional character I know, and I feel like Jem and Calpurnia are family. So when I started reading this book (because I felt I had a duty to do so as an English teacher), I felt betrayed. Jem is dead, Scout is called Jean Louise, and Calpurnia has turned against the little girl she raised. Atticus is a racist, and the earth feels like it is spinning out of orbit. My perfect little Maycomb no longer looks familiar. My recommendation? Read it if you must, and then forget you ever read it. I'm going back to Mockingbird and choosing to believe it is what Harper Lee really wanted out there. It's the only way I can cope.
Have you read any of these? Tell me what you think! Need some more recommendations? Check back next Wednesday!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fashion&Compassion

When you go to a writing conference, you don't expect God to give you a word about what's in your closet. But since He rarely does what I expect anyway, that's exactly what He did to me this weekend.

While I was at the amazing She Speaks conference in Charlotte, NC, I had some time to kill between sessions and visited a booth displaying super cute jewelry and accessories. When I learned more about what was on display and the women who had created it, I wanted to cry. And buy everything I saw.

The booth was set up by Fashion&Compassion, an organization that employs women in the United States and other countries who have faced what you and I probably cannot imagine. Women who were once trafficked for sex, women who are living with HIV, women whose husbands have abandoned them and who now must provide for their children in third-world countries. The artisans making the beautiful items are given hope and financial security because of Fashion&Compassion.



As I was touching the pieces and seeing the beautiful faces of artisans standing near me, I was convicted to my core. I have a closet full of jewelry, accessories, and clothing, and I have no idea where any of it was made - or who was exploited so I could purchase it inexpensively. The money I spent on all of it didn't give anyone hope.


But I know who made the necklaces and bracelet I bought. Alice and Paty. Alice, a widow and mother of four, left witchcraft and now follows Jesus because of the influence of Fashion&Compassion. Paty from Ecuador made my bracelet from nuts and seeds. I will think of them - and see their faces - when I wear the handmade pieces.


Please consider visiting Fashion&Compassion's website and purchasing some beautiful and meaningful pieces. There are women - sisters in Christ - whose lives will be made better.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Join Me for First 5!

I don't think I've ever been more excited about an app than I am for the First 5 app, and I want you to join me in its official launch tomorrow morning!

Proverbs 31 is an incredible ministry that takes the word of God to people all over the world, and it has developed an app to wake you each morning with Scripture. You simply set your alarm within the app, and the first thing you'll see every morning is a short devotion. Before Facebook and Twitter can steal your thoughts and distract your heart, First 5 will take your thoughts directly to the One who made you and loves you. The devotions are designed to take 5 minutes and to be a manageable way to give God what Lysa Terkeurst calls your "Genesis thoughts" - those first thoughts that set the tone for the entire day.





The First 5 website says, "We say we put God first... So wouldn't it make sense that we give Him the first 5 minutes of each day?"

All you have to do is search for the First 5 app in your app store (it's available for Android and Apple devices), download for free, and log in. It's that easy. 



Here's what I'm looking for: a group of people who will commit to giving God their first five minutes for the next 2 weeks. I believe God will honor our efforts and transform something within us, and I can't wait to see what He does! If you'll commit to this with me, subscribe with this link and join the group. I'll email you, and we can share what God does in us as we study His Word. It's going to be an amazing two weeks!

For more information, go to first5.org

Saturday, May 9, 2015

When You Want to Skip Mother's Day

2011.

Mother's Day was coming, and I was dreading it. My first holiday as a single mom, my birthday, had been excruciating, but I dreaded this day even more. Mothers and fathers are a pair, but I wasn't part of a pair anymore. I was newly alone, very single, and still trying to figure out which way was up. My children were too young to think of or buy gifts, so I feared that the day would go unrecognized and I would be miserable. I knew it would be hard. Hard had become a way of life, and holidays were a type of hard I had never experienced before. Holidays were supposed to bring joy, but all they brought were real reminders of a reality I wished weren't mine.

Mother's Day.

I wanted to skip it.

When the day came, though, it wasn't as bad as I imagined it might be, and the only reason it wasn't was my own mom. She made it better than it had to be. That's what moms do, isn't it? They make it better, whatever it is.

My mom had taken my kids a few days before, giving me some very needed relief. Unbeknownst to me, she was also making Mother's Day happen for me, her own baby. She knew just what agony I was feeling, and she knew I needed just a little relief. So she put her Mimi skills to work and helped my children make things for me. First, she posed their little arms into the letters of LOVE, framing their sweet faces for me. These pictures still hang in my kitchen.


She also had them create sweet vases of flowers that wouldn't die, their thumbprints forever captured in paint. They sit in my classroom where I see them every day.

Mother's Day is supposed to be a day when we celebrate and honor our own mothers, but for me, in 2011, Mother's Day was a day that solidified the reality of what mothers do. They forget about themselves and do whatever it takes to help their babies. Even if their babies are 31 with babies of their own. Even if they can't take the pain completely away, they do everything in their power to soothe it. Mothers work behind the scenes every day on their children's behalf, and sometimes, a mother's love is the only thing that helps.

2011? It was just what I needed.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Wish I Had Known They Were Lasts

I can't remember the final time I bathed either of my children.


For years, I scrubbed their tiny bodies with Johnson's, my knees screaming for mercy as I kneeled beside the tub. Night after night, I wrapped their sweet-smelling pink flesh in hooded towels and wrestled their slippery selves as I forced their toes into feety-pajamas. I slathered chunky thighs with pink lotion, combed wisps of baby-fine hair, stacked bath toys in their usual spots, and mopped up rivers of bath water cascading through the bathroom. Every night, we had our routine.

And now it's done.
My big kids bathe themselves now, and although I used to long for this day to arrive, it's bittersweet. Sure, it's nice to say, "Go take your shower" and sit on the couch while it happens, but some nights I'd give anything to watch them marvel at splashing again or to shampoo their hair myself. Sometimes, I'd love to see baby toys sitting where big-kid shampoo and loofahs now do. What I wouldn't do to wrap their warm bodies in hooded towels and snuggle them against me one more time.

Lasts are hard, but sometimes only after the fact. They're hard because we don't know that they're lasts. There was no big ceremony for the last bath I gave. There was just a gradual releasing of that task to finally-able hands. I didn't know the last diaper-change would be just that, because in the moment I seriously doubted that potty-training would ever catch on.

I had no idea as I brushed teeth for the last time that I'd never do it again, and I couldn't have imagined as I man-handled toddlers into car seats that one day they'd just buckle themselves.



Motherhood makes your soul scream, doesn't it? When the pregnancy test shows positive, you scream with excitement and wonder that you and the man you love have created a life who will walk in this world. When the hormones rage, you scream for the nausea to stop and for chocolate in any form. When the first contraction hits and you feel like you're splitting in two, your body screams for that child to just get out while your soul screams, "I don't think I'm ready yet!"

When your squishy-faced miracle breathes on his own for the first time and is cut free from your life-giving body, your soul screams in praise to the Creator of all life and your heart changes forever.


Each day after your name becomes "mom" is a soul-scream of pleasure and pain. Sleep-deprivation and feelings of inadequacy make you howl that you're just messing up, but 30 minutes later he coos as you sing and you know that you're doing it right. Every day, without fail, your mom-life is a dance of horror and wonder, and your soul screams at the amazement of both.

I know there are more lasts headed my way. The last day of elementary school is weeks away for my son, and both children put away their own laundry as it is. I rarely make lunches anymore, and they can pick out their own clothes (with relative success). Lasts are a part of this life as a mom, and my goal for today is to remember the sadness that previous lasts have wrought and treasure the moments I know will end. School dropoff lines are a pain in this moment, but I'm sure they don't compare to the pain of watching a teenager drive himself to high school. Entertaining nine-year-old boys might not be the most relaxing way to spend a Saturday, but playdates will come to an end and those boys will move away.

One day will be the last time I wash his sheets, and one night will be the last he spends in his bed at home.


Lasts will come whether we want them to or not, so in light of the sadness of future lasts, let's enjoy the now that still is.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wrong Notes and Imperfect Pottery

The clay sculptures sit next to my bed where I can see them every morning and night. A dinosaur, an eagle, and a fish are among my most treasured possessions.





Painstakingly shaped and painted by my own children, these pieces may never be on display in a museum, but they are displayed where their creators' mother can see and appreciate them over and over. In a fire, I'd scoop them right up over items worth thousands more.


My children made them for me, and that is what makes them perfect.

But to my children, they aren't. Sometimes when they see them, they laugh at what they made when their hands were smaller, and they see every flaw in their hands' creations. They ask me why I keep them out, why I display them like they're fine art.

So often, in my own creating, I feel like I just mess up everything, too.

In my hands and through my eyes, what I intend to be beautiful is nothing more than broken. What I mean to be a masterpiece turns into a mess.


My meager offerings to the Lord? They disappoint me. They are never enough and never as good as so and so's. When I reflect on what I do, all I see are the imperfections and flaws. The shortcomings and not-good-enoughs shout loudly for my attention, and the blood, sweat, and tears I spent on the creation are forgotten. All I see is all I'm not. All I notice is where I failed. Again.

I convince myself that all I can do is create imperfect pottery, and the imperfections cause me to recoil. They cause me to swear off creating again, and they make me feel like I can never offer anything of worth.

And I know I'm not alone.

My sister-in-law has a beautiful voice. She leads worship in our church, and people are constantly amazed at the talent she displays. But when the songs are over and she hears herself replayed, all she hears are the notes she didn't nail. The imperfections that to us are unnoticed are evidence of failure to her ears.

She is like me, and I am like you. All we notice are our own wrong notes; all we see are our imperfect pottery's flaws.



Through my eyes, yes, I am a failure. My creations, even under the best conditions and with the purest intentions, will never be just right. Regardless of how hard I work and how perfect I desire my creation to be, it will fall short. There will always be an improvement that could be made or a change that would make it better.

But.

My eyes are not seeing all that God's are. My assessment is not the most accurate tally, and my focus on miniscule details causes me to forget that I created it for Him and not myself.

My perfection is not what He desires. He just wants me to give it my all, do it for Him, and let it glorify Him how it will. His Word reminds us, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

All, for the glory of God. All, even the imperfect. All, even what you wish were better.

And more importantly, for the glory of God. Not for the praise of man, not for self-satisfaction, but for glorifying the One who created you. Your creations are to praise the Creator, and when they are done with only Him in mind, they do.

Our imperfect creations are displayed on his shelves, and they are among His treasures. May we create with pure hearts and glorify with those creations, even if imperfect.