Saturday, August 9, 2014

You Have Seen

Dear Jennie,

Today you're well-rested, having just returned from a relaxing getaway with your incredible husband. The new school year is looming and you're feeling a little stressed, beginning to make lists of all that must be done. But the stress you're feeling now is nothing compared to how you'll feel next Sunday night, when you know that 75 students will be entering your classroom the next day expecting great things of you. The stress will be even greater as you begin to prepare them for the high-stakes testing that will determine so much of their future - and yours. The anxiety will mount, the exhaustion will set in, and around February of this year, you'll begin to grumble. So I'm writing to you now, before all of it starts, to remind you that the stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are all a privilege. Really, they are.

You see, Jennie, how have you forgotten? You've traveled to other countries where education isn't a given. You have seen with your own eyes children carrying their own chairs to a makeshift classroom in a tin building well over 100 degrees.





You have seen their kitchen, empty but for a few small bags of beans and a jug of oil. You have heard the school leaders say that the kerosene is almost gone and there is no money for more.



You have listened to lessons being taught in another language to children who have to pay to be there.



You have snuggled with a student who had never seen you before but held on for dear life.



You have seen the reality that education will be their only way out.


You have seen students smiling just at the chance to be at school. You have seen classrooms that are not Pinterest-inspired but are instead - and more importantly - freedom-providing.









So, Jennie, when education in America seems overwhelming both to you as a teacher and to your children as students, remember that it's education in America! It is not held under a bridge, it is not dangerous for your daughter to attend, and it is not financially impossible. 

Is it perfect? Of course not. But compared to what you've seen and where you've been, Jennie, it's a dream come true. A dream that even today, non-American children are chasing by illegally riding trains into this country. A dream that today, in 2014, little girls around the world don't have to opportunity to pursue. A dream that today, most people take for granted. Don't be one of them, Jennie. Don't be a grumbler. Don't fall into the trap that only complains about education in America. Be a part of making it better. And be a person who remembers just how incredible it really is.






Monday, July 7, 2014

Over and Through

I've reached the conclusion that sometimes you have to get past what you can't get over.

Regardless of how long you've lived on this planet, and regardless of whether your life has been charmed or trying, you have likely faced a situation that you just don't understand. The circumstances don't make sense, and you can't wrap your brain around why it had to happen. Years may have elapsed since you were taken by surprise, or you may have only just begun to grapple with the 'why.' The unexpected happens to us all, and the fallout leaves us reeling. The hardest part, though, is that we must continue living even while we're reeling. Life has no pause button, and while we'd love to put the brakes on the everyday mundane, life demands to be lived in the midst of the trouble.

I have seen friends face what seems insurmountable. Babies die in the womb, children are diagnosed with cancer, spouses prove unfaithful. Friends drift away, churches are torn apart, intentions are misunderstood. Jobs are terminated, finances are out of control, teenagers are rebellious. Daily, in these situations, we pray for the hardships to pass, and when they do, we would give anything to get over the left-behind hurt. In my own hardest moments, I have even been told by well-intentioned advice-givers that it's "time to get over it." I understood what they meant, but they didn't understand that it's impossible.

Years and distance from life-changing pain have taught me that you don't ever 'get over it.' That doesn't mean that you remain paralyzed and cease to seek happiness, but your now is always colored by your then. The whatever-it-is that you can't get over will always impact the who-you-are-now. You don't get over it; you get past and through it. 'Getting over it' implies that it never bothers you again. It does. 'Getting over it' suggests that you don't ever think of it again. You do.

I still cry about what I wish I could get over. I still hurt from the sting of the pain. I still remember the anguish I felt. The pain is less intense, yes, but there is still pain. And I don't think this is a bad thing. Why does the Lord allow residual hurt? Why doesn't He just go ahead and wipe every tear from our eye? Perhaps it's because the pain we felt - feel- is purposeful on this planet. Perhaps it's because there is something happening in us as a result of what happened to us. The unparalleled hurt in my own life has shown me unparalleled joy. The anguish has paved the way for rejoicing.

Get over it? I can't. Get through it? I am, daily.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

You Think You Love Her Now

My side of the family is in a sweet baby frenzy right now, with my younger sister having just delivered her very own 8 lb 14 oz daughter. Born in the wee hours of the morning, sweet Emma has enchanted us all and ended a 7 year baby drought. We are all awash in pacifiers and swaddling and worries of when she last pooped. Babies make us crazy, don't they? (Side note - those 8 lbs 14 oz and my sister's tale of delivery made me thankful for my own unexpected C-sections. They weren't what I wanted, but neither is pushing out an 8 lb 14 oz baby, thank you very much! She's my new hero.)

As I've seen us all fall head over heels in love with this brand new person, it has occurred to me that the love we first feel when we see our newborns is nothing compared with the love that develops as we get to know them as people. The love we feel when we hear our newborns cry and when we nestle them for the first time is powerful and automatic, a connection so strong that we would immediately fight to the death for them. We think that we are as in love with them as we will ever be, but we are wrong. We think we love them now, but that love intensifies and changes as they do.

So I'd like to say to my baby sister as she is loving on her baby, you think you love her now, but just wait.



Just wait until that helpless newborn smiles at you for the first time (and not from gas.) Wait until she locks eyes with you and smiles that toothless grin because she knows that it's you. Just wait. You think you love her now.



Wait until she cries for you and cannot - will not - be soothed by anyone else. Wait until only Mommy will suffice. Your heart will swell knowing that she really does know her Mommy. Wait and see.



Wait until she reaches out with her fat-roll ridden arms, saying, "Carry you, Mommy," needing the safe arms of her mother. You think you love her now.



Just wait until she says in that squeaky 2-year old voice, "I wuv you, too." You will melt every time you hear it and secretly hope that she never learns to pronounce her L's.



Wait until you walk her into the first day of kindergarten, her hair in pigtails and your heart in your throat. Wait until you walk back to your car, crying the ugly cry because she's so big and you're so sad and you know nothing will ever be the same. Wait until she runs back into your arms and tells you about her friends and shows you her papers. You think you love her now. Just wait.

Wait until she begins to hide notes for you written in her own handwriting. "I love Mommy" painstakingly penned in crayon is more priceless than any Picasso in a museum. Wait until you pull out the shoe box containing all of her notes and have tears rolling down your cheeks because you remember feeling her kick in your belly. Wait and see.

Wait until you watch her do something she really fears for the first time, like riding a big-girl bike or diving into a pool. When she falls and fears but tries it again, your pride in her tenacity will add another dimension to your love for her. You think you love her now.

Wait until you're sick or have a headache and she shows genuine concern, asking, "Are you okay, Mommy?" Your love for her big heart will overwhelm you, and you will have faith that she'll be an amazing woman one day. You just think you love her now.



Wait until she begins to say her own prayers, saying things like, "I'm thankful for all of that, God, but mostly for you." You think you love her now.

Wait until her baby teeth fall out and too-large teeth grow in and her legs are long and gangly. You will wonder where your baby went, but you'll catch a glimpse when you least expect it, and it will make you catch your breath. Just wait.

Just wait until she confesses a fear to you, that she won't get a reward M&M in computer lab because she's not the first to finish her work. Your own tears will well and you'll want to fight over M&Ms and you will love her so fiercely it hurts. You think you love her now.



We think we love them now, but the truth is that we will love them more - and differently - tomorrow. A mother's love for her child is a dynamic, always-evolving, never-lessening creature. It is a love that no one can prepare you for, and it is a love that transcends even horrible-birth stories. It is a love from God himself, and it is a love only surpassed by Him. We just think we love them now.







Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Deep Thoughts on Food Network

So today's deep thoughts about Food Network are 100% percent indicative of the fact that school is out and I'm at home and I have wayyyy too much television-watching time on my hands.

Nevertheless.

We shall begin with Giada De Laurentiis. My immediate thought every time her shows come on is, "For real?" She's a doggone chef who cooks all the time, yet she has the figure of a fashion model. She weighs like 82 pounds and smiles with those perfectly white teeth, and I am (understandably) inherently distrustful. I like my chefs to have the figure of Barefoot Contessa or pre-scandal Paula Deen. I need to know that they eat what they cook and that if I were to somehow begin cooking the way they do, I would blow up and am therefore justified in my less-than-Food-Network-worthy culinary prowess. It makes me think she's a wizard or something. Plus, "Giada at Home" contains views of the ocean through her window. Unfair.

Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten. Whatever you call her, she is a character. She says things like, "I suppose you could always use a store-bought chicken stock, but it's just so easy to kill and roast a free-range chicken from your farm and use produce from your own garden. Home-grown basil has a freshness that stores just can't duplicate." Well, then. I couldn't agree more. Plus, she laughs. A lot. If you've never noticed, just listen when her friends mosey on over to her palatial abode in the Hamptons. She laughs a strange amount.

Ree Drummond. I think we could be friends, but I would need to see her not smiling just once to know that she's the real deal. Seriously - she smiles the whole show. Still, I like her. She uses the blasphemous store-bought ingredients and makes things like Monster Cookies, so she can't be too bad. Plus, we could hang out at the lodge while the kids round up the cattle.

Guy Fieri. While his bleached porcupine hair is a bit jolting at first, I adore "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives." He is hilarious, and he's pudgy. The two most important qualities in a TV chef. Plus, I just got back from a cruise that served his burgers, and they were unbelievable. Super melty cheese and donkey sauce. Yum yum. Which makes me think of yum-o, which makes me think of Rachael Ray.

In a paradoxical predicament, I am highly annoyed by her, yet always watch her. Why is this? Is it because her 30 minute meals seem accessible even if they would cost a million dollars to actually make? Is it because she could talk the paint off a wall? Perhaps it's her stories about her Sicilian mother and her excessive use of EVOO. The mystery of her appeal remains.

I would like to address the hidden hilarity of my watching Food Network shows at all. I don't like to cook. Not even a little bit. And eating isn't something I love too much, either. I am not a foodie, and I do not have a discriminating palate. I could eat cereal three meals a day. I guess I like living vicariously through people who have mastered the stress of having side items finish cooking at the same time. Tears me up every time. Last night, my rolls finished just as the pork chops did and I felt they should award me a show. Maybe the hours of watching Food Network are starting to pay off after all.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Time I Do Have

My children left today for their first of four weeks apart from me this summer. They are children of divorce, children whose summers will always be remembered as time split between their two families. I want to be better with this than I am, and I'm better than I used to be, but it's never going to be okay. It's never going to be easy watching them climb into a car with a stepmother I don't know, going to a place I won't be. I hate it more than even I usually realize.

I had a revelation tonight about why I'm in a funk, other than the obvious summer separation from my children. It's this: I want the time I do have with them to be wonderful. I want it to be perfect, full of wonderful memories and unicorns and butterflies. But it's not. Not at all. It's hard. It's real life, punishing disobedient 7 year olds and explaining self-control to selfish 8 year olds.

It's mommy crying after bedtime because the day was so tough and the fun just wasn't there and the misbehavior was rampant. It's wondering what I did wrong and how this will affect them long term and if the months I was barely surviving as a single mom caused the hardships we're now seeing.

It's not perfect at all, and it's not the picture I paint in my head of making the most of the time we do have together. But the time we do have together will be an absolute waste if I neglect to parent and just participate in fun. That's what I'm telling myself tonight, reminding myself is true. Parenting is rarely fun, and I refuse to relent in pursuit of perfect memories. I want to be a parent who raises them, not one who just plans fun.

And tonight, when my babies aren't here and there's a lump in my throat instead, I'm reminding myself that God's grace covers this. Even this.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reflections on a Sabbatical

I needed a break from the world.

Life was chaotic, I was overwhelmed, and the constant barrage of perfect pictures of everyone else's world was about to do me in. So I did the 21st century version of squirreling myself away from society for a while - I logged off.

I didn't blog; I didn't read blogs. I swore off Facebook, and I shunned Twitter. I gave myself a time-out from the nonstop updates that stole my minutes and brought out my envy.

It was glorious.

And now that I've allowed myself some social media again, I almost wish I hadn't. Perhaps it's just my personality type, but I've come to realize how few contributions social media actually make for me personally.

Sure, I can see what people I went to high school with are up to (and goodness gracious, that's more than I needed to know), and I can learn quickly who just got engaged or took a pregnancy test, and yes, I don't know how we lived without knowing who was at the gym or seeing a picture of their meals, but truly - does the information we're obsessed with posting and fanatical about reading enrich our lives? Does it make us better people, or does it just make us voyeurs? Does it make us more satisfied, or does it just make us compare?

I know what it does for me, and it often isn't pretty.

Now, I'm not saying that social media can't be useful. Certainly it can. It promotes some good causes, reconnects old friends, and (sometimes) encourages us. But if we were to draw up a list of pros and cons, I'm afraid the cons would win every time - at least for me. And in an age where time is so limited and people are already so disconnected, allowing social media to consume such a large part of our lives is unproductive and isolating. And I don't think anyone can argue that it doesn't consume a lot of time. Nearly everyone I know checks their social media multiple times a day. Don't believe me? Go to any restaurant and just watch the people dining. They can't eat an entire meal without checking who has updated Facebook or taking selfies to show the world they were on a date (enough already!). We no longer know how to be; we must also do.

What it all boils down to for me is this quote from Roosevelt - "Comparison is the thief of joy." Every single time I get on social media - and maybe it's just me - I compare what I say/do/look like/wear/write with everyone else. I don't want to, and goodness knows I don't try to, but it just happens. Most people post the highlights of their lives (although we all have those 'friends' who post the negatives that should really remain private), so seeing the highlights can wrongly make us believe that their lives are all highlights. News flash - they aren't. Social media has become, for many, just the grown-up way of bragging about the good and concealing the bad.

My sabbatical revealed to me that I can live without Facebook. Twitter isn't a necessity, and even though I enjoy keeping up with strangers' lives via blogs, I don't have to. I did not suffer in the least from not knowing the ins and outs of others' days. I managed just fine without poring over entries of 140 characters. I spent more time reading and less time with my nose buried in my phone. Life felt calmer, and I honestly felt less anxiety. Maybe it was imagined and just a placebo effect, or maybe there was really a connection. Whatever the case, I learned something valuable. Less computer, more living. You should try it sometime.







Thursday, May 8, 2014

What If?

I've stopped following writers on Twitter. I tear up every time I see that a writer I love has published yet another book. I avoid the blogger/writers I love so much. And here's the reason why.

They're doing what I want to do

They're doing what I've been called to do but haven't succeeded at yet. They're doing what my heart desires, and it hurts my heart when their success reminds me of what I believe to be my failure.

Does this even make any sense?

You see, there's been this question in the back of my mind for oh, I don't know, 34 YEARS. What if I fail? My terrorizing fear of being a failure has led to paralyzing inaction, and recently I've begun to see - understand - that inaction due to fear is sin. It's sin because it's ultimately a belief in my own abilities rather than God's power through me. My inaction comes from fear that is rooted in unbelief. Fear. Unbelief. Not exactly qualities that I want to define me.

'What if' questions are such a part of everyday life that I often don't even notice them. You know how your eyes always see your nose but your brain just ignores it? That's kind of how it is with 'what ifs.' They're always there, but we're not always conscious of just how greatly they affect us. 

What if we can't pay the bills?

What if I never lose this baby weight?

What if they don't like me?

What if he is attracted to her?

What if... What if... What if...

It's exhausting living with omnipresent, invisible fears. I'm tired of it, and I'm willing to bet that you are too.

Here's the crazy thing: we don't have to live like that. We don't have to be consumed with fear and inaction and sin. Christ died for our freedom, and we can choose - today - to unshackle ourselves!

Tomorrow night at my church, 4 Points in Greer, SC, I am going to be speaking at an event just for ladies, and we'll be addressing this very issue. We will talk about the fact that no matter what happens - even if your greatest 'what if' fear comes true - God is still good and He still has plans for you. If you are able to come, I'd love to see you there as we explore the burning question, "what if?"

The church's website is www.4points.org, and you can get directions there.