Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sometimes I Can't, and That's Good

My friends recently took on a home improvement project: a whirlwind weekend thing with painting and heavy lifting and other tiring things. I realized after it was all over they didn't ask for help. They just did it all themselves.  

Then I thought that was kind of odd for my friends. We usually ask for help. Painting, moving, building, constructing, remodeling - we usually do it in packs, pizza for lunch, work that requires sore muscles, dirt under the fingernails, showers afterwards. 

It's nice to get something done on your own, to have the sense of accomplishment, the "I built this". But then there's this even bigger "wow" you get when you invite someone else in to the process, the "we built this" effect. It's like something that is hard gets done, but faster, and when you're done, you have this friend you didn't have before. A bond builds in the hammering and the arguing about paint colors and the gentle but slightly annoyed "you missed a spot" and everything that turns an individual's pride into a community's unity. 

It's like letting people in on the work, letting them help you, is good for you and for them. 

The sweat builds the camaraderie, doesn't it? [Photo cred:]

I remember after college I didn't much like asking for help. I was a campus ministry intern that first year, and I met weekly with this incredible, cosmopolitan group of college girls. There were the sparkling, hospitable roommates: Hayet from Algeria and Vivian from China, and the beautiful Persian and Japanese girl, Fatemah, from Japan. Sometimes she would take off her hijab when it was just us girls. There was Duchess, the fiery, spunky track star from Florida.  And I can't remember the name of the girl from Brazil - her name began with O. And then there were me, Merrill and Jackie, the Midwestern brunettes who came every week to see what would happen next. 

It was so dynamic. Our conversation led to God, the gods; with Christians and Muslims and agnostics in the bunch, it was lively to be sure. And so beautiful. One of my favorite memories from one of the most difficult, out-of-place years of my life. 

But I had an agenda. I was promoting Jesus, you know, The Way, The Truth and The Life, and he sure needed some help so I volunteered. I felt compelled to be the WalMart, the place with all the answers. So each week I baked the goodies and tried to have something for us to talk about, some kind of activity. And all the pressure was on me to arrange everything and make the food and fill up all the roles so I could show how together Jesus was helping me be. 

That spring, I attended a missions seminar, and the speaker, a local preacher, came and talked about Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. He said Jesus did something outrageous here, besides just talking to a woman who was a social outcast. He took a big breath and asked her for a drink. 

Yes, so imagine this. Here's Jesus, the Son of God, and he's thirsty. Because he's human. And of course he could just speak water into existence like he did the first time it was invented, but no, he sits down at this well, and he's like, "Hey, would you mind helping me out with a beverage? I'm parched." 

This always seemed like a strange move for such a powerful guy. But the speaker continued. He said Jesus empowered the woman to give him something, to be the one with something to offer, before he gave her what she needed, which in her case was redemption, compassion and someone to understand without judging. 

[photo cred:]

He let her serve him first. And this was what opened the door. Her service, her provision to him of something he did not have, gave her the upper hand. She had something this man needed. And this gave her value. Wow. What a humble person Jesus is. And so creative. 

I took this to heart. The WalMart compulsion fizzled under the weight of the new revelation. Jesus let others serve him, which empowered them to see their value and skill, and they opened their hearts to him. 

So I backed off, did less, asked for help. I let Hayet and Vivian bake, and we held our group in the dorms or in the girls' apartment, and everybody helped. I got to breathe, stop being Jesus and let him do his thing. And we all felt much better. It turned out Chinese food made by a Chinese girl is quite delicious, but I would never have known if I'd kept at it with the poorly baked goods. (I don't even like cooking, for crying out loud.)

We can do it all on our own, the building and child-rearing, the painting and gardening, the bathroom remodel and the gutter repair, the volunteer caroling at the nursing home or managing every single program in our organization. We can all just separate and work on our little tasks and come back together and talk about it. We can try to make God proud with everything we accomplished. 

But it's just not as fun, not as big-thinking to do your own thing. And certainly not as effective. It's the invitation in, the "we want you and we need your help" that builds other people up, the work alongside another that forges the bond and turns acquaintances into friends. It's the admission, "You have something I need," that turns an angry, rocky heart into someone who wants to help, to hear and be heard. 

I'm not trying to be fuzzy. This just worked. Took the heap of pressure off me and let others see I believed in them. It was a relief then, and still is now. And the outcome is always lovely. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention, or All the Things That Don't Happen

When John was born, he had the wobbliest head. I mean, that thing couldn’t stay in one place if it tried. It wasn’t trying, for the record. It was tedious work keeping the head lined up with the body, not too far to the right or left, front or back. All the veteran parents shout to the newbies, "Support the head! Support the head!" as if it might just tip too far and roll right off. 

There were plenty of times where I had control, where I knew where the head wanted to wobble so I secured my hand behind that tiny noggin, and there it stayed. Some days it got away from me though. A sudden spark through his not-quite-formed neurological pathways and jolt! There goes the head again.

One hand in front, one behind the head. Good mama. 

One day I was holding him on the couch, and he was doing the bouncy head thing like usual, but all of a sudden, his whole body flung backwards. It was all I could to keep him from crashing out of my grip and smashing his head on the coffee table. But I caught him, wobbly head, spazzy body and all.

And at that moment, I realized that I saved him from a solid head knocking, a significant, nasty ouch that never happened because of my alertness and adept parental response system. And you know what? He is never going to know about it.

There were countless moments like these, which changed as he grew. Like all the times I put a pillow down near the couch so he wouldn’t bonk his head on the furniture, or when I covered the underside of the coffee table with my hand as he crawled underneath so he wouldn’t end up with a goose egg on his forehead on his way out.  

He’s like a born stunt man with no training. Here we are, the parents, flailing after the kids, holding our breath and trying to prevent severe maiming or death. It’s exhausting. And he’ll never know how much breath I lost, the touchdown catch dives across carpet, down hallways or through the living room, all to save him from himself.

This little dude is hardcore. And he keeps me running. 
He only knows about the times he does fall, when the chair he is standing on is more tilty than normal, and off he goes. Or when he careens through the nursery and pops his head on the table. The ouch turns rainbow colors and swells up nice within minutes.

Weeping ensues. It’s tragic for all of us. I missed one. I catch a million "almosts", but this one was an "actual". 

But what of all the times it doesn’t happen? When I caught John’s wobbly head that day on the couch, I realized there are a million times where I almost get hurt or emotionally wounded, where a bruise or a major injury, even death, were sure to happen. And then Father God or his angels step in, puts a hand behind my wobbly head, prop me up while I’m stepping, and then I’m okay.

I don’t even know about these times though. It’s prevention, and prevention never gets the cred it deserves.

Who knows all the diseases you avoided by taking your daily vitamin and exercising 30 minutes a day? Who knows the car accident you avoided because you turned around to be sure the oven was off? Who knows the falls and bangs and near-death experiences you’ve narrowly escaped because your very capable Dad and his angels were toodling right alongside you, ready for another jerky moment where you lost control? Think of the stunts you still pull as an adult, you know, applying makeup or making phone calls or composing your latest novel…while driving. How many times have we been saved and yet we’ll never know? 

Yet it’s the wounds that do happen, as rare as they are, the rejections, the “No” answers to tearful prayer, the rude lady in line at the grocery store or the friend who hurt our feelings, the jobs we don’t get, the phone call that “it’s cancer”, sad, long nights where we’re alone. It’s all the stuff we don’t like, the wounds and pain we do feel – these we remember. Whether it’s his fault or not, God gets the credit for these things.

No, God never gets credit for the prevention. I think he should.

I wasn’t good at recognizing God’s protection before I was a mom. I blamed God for the bad stuff and didn't see all the preventing he was breathlessly performing with such skill. Now that I am a mom, I see it much more, or I simply assume it’s happening. “I’m alive, aren’t I? It must be working.”

I can see now that there are a hundred almost-bad things that could have but did not go down in any given day. Too many to count. I’ll never know about them, but I know God is good so I know he is keeping the almost from being actual.

So thank you, God. Thank you for the excellent protection job you’ve been doing. Thank you for keeping me and my family safe again and again and again. Thank you for your hand around our little heads and tiny, fragile bodies, preventing, preventing, preventing. I hope you get more credit for all the diving after us that you do. Thank you. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Favorites and Bests from the Week

I'm in a sharing mood. Which also happens to be a promotional mood. (I still think I could be a rockstar at PR if the opportunity afforded itself.) Reading blogs and surfing the web allows me to happen upon a million new places I didn't even know existed. And I'm not even on Pinterest - I refuse. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites and bests: things I've been using, listening to, reading, enjoying lately. 

Best new gadget:
The iPad - yes, I finally got one. It's the 2 so don't think I'm all elitist or anything. The babe will get the Kindle - last year's Christmas gift to me  - regifted. He doesn't know yet, but something tells me it won't surprise him much.

Fave new app:
Flipboard - this iPad-friendly (and iPhone too, I think) app funnels your social media through some mystical beautifying system and makes reading through Twitter, Facebook and other news a far more aesthetically pleasing experience. 

Best band:
The Blackbird Revue. We're all sad about the Civil Wars and their internal conflict leading to tour cancellation and a bunch of other fallout. But if you're in love with that hauntingly lovely, folksy sound, you're going to just dig the freakishly talented, musical storytelling duo of the Blackbird Revue. They're local to the Midwest so you can catch them playing at venues around KC on a regular basis. And when you decide you can't get enough of their work, you can buy all their albums. Like you should. 

Best Jesus music for kids:
Little Songbirds. This light-hearted, spunky music is performed by the whole Fa'agutu family of singers, including the children. With almost a reggae feel to the sound, you and the kids are sure to be bouncing and singing along in no time.  

Best play and education ideas for moms:
NurtureStore. I'm telling you, the Brits know how to raise children. Or at least, this particular one, Cathy, does. When you subscribe via email, you can get the super helpful Weekly Play Planner which is, for the most part, stuff you could and would actually do. Or at least it gets your brain going for new ideas. Play and learning projects for all ages abound. Yes, even babies and toddlers. Since we're all thankful this time of year, I'm so thankful for this site. It's been helping me relax and helping me remember to include John in my daily tasks and reminding me of his developmental stage. 

Fave Toddler Schedule:
Montessori's Toddler Schedule. Over the holidays I found myself grasping for activities for John to do to engage and educate him, but also keep him busy. It occurred to me that the combination of our ever-changing routine with Josh's job and mine, the fact that he stays home with a working parent without peer interaction, plus the added switcheroo of holiday travel, was probably not helpful to a little tike. So onward with the newest idea: get John on a schedule. I had no clue where to start. What kinds of activities should be included in his day? I'm sure many moms, especially SAH moms, need these kinds of ideas. I thought this schedule was one of the most intriguing and helpful I found. 

Best inspiration for writers
Jeff Goins. His blog and weekly newsletter are chockfull of tips on writing, inspiration to get your bum off the couch and your fingers to the keyboard. He's connected with the leadership and writing spheres around the web-o-sphere so he offers freebies and discounts on lots of resources. He loves to motivate and share. Follow him on Twitter, subscribe to his newsletter and fall in love with writing again. 

Favorite thing I did this week: 
Gave the message at church. We're in the middle of a series on Controversy in our culture where we polled the "audience" to see what people are talking about, struggling with and what they really wish someone would answer. We've tackled big topics such as LGBT issues and the church, the end times, Christians and tolerance, and today I had the privilege of addressing the pop belief that there are many paths to God. Which of course is illogical, but that's not the point at the moment. I will post the podcast later in the week once it's up, but it was really enjoyable to share the thoughts and research I've had in my brain for the past 13 years. 

Favorite book I'm reading
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott. So painfully, hilariously, breathe-a-sigh-of-relief-you're-not-crazy honest about parenting the first year. And really, the truth of it lasts through all the years of parenting, from what I can tell. Anne always makes me laugh so hard I cry, which I find delightful, and these daily musings on mommyhood don't disappoint. In one entry, she recalls loving and adoring her sleeping baby one moment, only to fall asleep and wake to his cry, furious and resentful that he is awake and keeping her from precious sleep. If you're a mom or thinking about being one, this book will help you give yourself a bit more wiggle room on the perfection scale. Thanks, Anne. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

It Would Be Easier Without the Crazy

Parenting is one of those things. It's impossible. 

Sure, there are days where I forget. Okay, not days - minutes. Me and the tiny guy are laying there giggling about something, coloring, imagining, where we both pretend I understand the Baby Swedish. It's fun then. 

The switch flips when he insists on watching various household items swim in the toilet, or when he performs the limp-noodle act in the street as I try to shout, cajole, lift his floppy, rebel body into the driveway. 

Yes, these moments reveal a sad truth about me. I am sometimes crazy.

I would like to be less crazy. I would like to be calm, a floaty, happy mom with lots of self-control whose children listen, or if they don't, she has a neat, prepped response for their folly. But as most people who parent will admit, if they're not lying, "I never knew how (insert negative character quality here) I was until I had children." 

For me, I didn't know the anger was there. Man, so angry. So irrational. (Uh oh, starting to sound like a two year old in a tantrum, right? Cue some empathy for the two year old.)

In my ongoing (ahem, never-ending) efforts to self-reform, I learn, read, listen and even shamelessly copycat people who are good at parenting. Whatever that means. Cause from what I can tell, most of our parent friends are as befuddled as we are. 

I also pray. Squeak out, "Help me have patience, please. Please. Help me respond with grace." And so far I think prayer has been the biggest miracle worker on my actual responses to the maniacal, death-defying stunts and general obstinance toddlers seem to choose. 

But how in the world do you do this parent thing? Not just do it, but do it well.

John might argue, perhaps this is the problem with my parenting. [Photo credit]

A year ago I read Loving Our Kids on Purpose, which flipped my world upside down with the premise that - get this - you cannot control other people. I wish it hadn't taken me 30 years to figure discover this, but hey, I'm here now.  

I love their philosophy: "You can't control anyone but yourself. If you find yourself getting angry and raising your voice with your kids, then you're giving your emotional control to someone who probably still poops their pants. And then you're in a bad situation."

Ah yes, the truth rings. But the personal reform takes a while. The acting right instead of acting wrong. The digging up of the old, crusty ways of yelling and demanding and trying to control and replacing them with the less offensive, happier ways of self-control. 

I need to read the book again. I just listened to the Loving Our Preschoolers audio seminar, which was all a great refresher. John is old enough for choices now, and he's going to be making a lot of them. They might be mostly timeout, but that will be his choice. Not mine.

A review of the thoughts for my benefit, and perhaps yours too: Choices. Attitudes. Mine is mine, and yours is yours. I can't change you; you can't change me. I am in control of me, unless I give it up. But that's no one's fault but mine. No one can take my choice from me. No one can take my self-control away. So empowering, isn't it? 

In a family, we can influence each other, protect each other, enjoy each other, but we can't control each other. The more I realize this, the happier mom/wife/employee/human I will be. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Adventures in Not Meeting Anyone

One of my friends just joined one of those fancy dating sites. I was all for it. He's an import to the city he lives in now, doesn't know a lot of people to recommend potential girlfriends, and he's pushing 30, which makes everyone nervous cause there's some kind of cosmic rule that if you're not married by 30, you might be a little weird. Or have too many cats. There's no research to back this up, but because people's mothers tell them it's true, it must be. 

Rewind six, maybe seven years, and I felt a little judgy and suspicious of friends who met people on the internet. "Don't you want your relationship to be more authentic and serendipitous?" I thought haughtily. "Like the movies?" 

This from a girl who, at the time, hadn't dated anyone for more than a few consecutive months. I was a professional breaker-upper. So yes, I was giving out my dating advice for free. I wasn't going to be getting paid, that's for sure.

Since then, two of my friends have found their true loves over the broadbands. Strange as it seemed to me in my BM life (that's Before Marriage), five point five years of being with Josh (and four and a half married) showed me that love is not quite so spontaneous.  In fact, love in committed relationships, especially once you've made the big leap into marriage, requires a significant amount of intentionality. Affairs happen "spontaneously"; people grow up apart in marriage for lack of discipline and purpose in the every day. Getting together and staying together is more successfully when you actually try.  

So it's really not so strange that you would intentionally look for someone on the interwebs if you're going to spend the rest of your life trying to intentionally love, honor and respect them, as long as you both shall live.

[Photo cred:]

A couple things that might make internet dating a little funky:
1. Meeting Mr/Ms Right is harder since your new flame is out of context. You probably don't have mutual friends to spend time with so you can easily get all wrapped up with just him or just her for lack of having others you both know to pal around with. But this happened to Josh and I when we started dating, and we had no lack of mutual friends. There's that intentionality thing again. If you don't have mutual friends, inviting your new significant other into your world and your friendships is the best way to solve that problem. Plus it keeps you from being "that guy" who goes off with his girlfriend and forgets his friends. Not cool. (Same is true for girls.) 

2. Then there's the fact that you simply don't have a reference on this person. This one is the hardest. It's nice to meet a friend of a friend and you have this automatic recommendation. A wink and a thumbs up from someone you trust. If you don't work out, it's usually not too big of a deal. But of course, it could be awkward if you're going to see that person at parties later. With internet dating, your "connecting friend" is really a computer, patching together common interests and demographics like it's in stats class. No emotions, no winking, just data. That kind of sucks since we're dealing in humans here, but you're far less likely to run into a bad one-time date at a party if you met him or her in the cyberworld.

3. And of course, there's just the fact that people can paint such a lovely (ahem, fake) picture of themselves online. I mean, we all do this when we're dating, but if you're meeting online, you run the risk of meeting the person as they are now, when their profile picture is from early college before they took up drinking heavily and quit their gym membership. There's an awkward moment. But goodness knows everyone fakes it the first few months of dating. Why else would you spend the first year in total bliss with almost zero conflict? (Well, I hear other people do this. As two oldest children with a stubborn streak, Josh and I had our share of spats during the magical first years.)

So there you go. Solid reasons to date online, and legitimate rationale to explain away the fears and annoying commentary from nay-saying friends and family. 

You're welcome. Happy meeting-your-soulmate-on-purpose. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Being Two in a World of No

The days begin and end sweetly. Hugs and kisses and sweetness exchanged. Great expectations in the morning, forgetting the troubled days past. And there's quiet in the evening, prayers and blessings, and volume-down silence. 

Many nights as I tuck him in, I close the door quietly rehearsing the ways I will not parent him tomorrow. More regrets than I'd like to admit. 

The mornings and evenings are the thoughtful spaces, the hopeful snapshots, the looking forward or looking back when clarity is, well, more clear.

But these are the bookends, and in between is the life. The reacting and preventing, the coaching and teaching, the thinking out loud, the kindly saying it quietly, the redirecting, then the shouting and regretting. The laughing, tickling and chasing. And the No. Please, No.

He knows he is two. One and one equals...

Even as I've been writing this post, he poured a cup of water out on the table and drenched the newly-washed tablecloth. I reacted with nearly all the grace and patience of a drunken lumberjack. Then I returned to my post and continued writing. 

Ten minutes passed and there was quiet on the floor again. The kind that made me uncomfortable. I heard a tiny munching sound, so silent only a mother can hear it. "What are you eating, John?" I called pointlessly into the kitchen. "Mmmmmm," is all he responded. It could be anything, I thought to myself with a moderate level of dread. But I didn't get up. He sauntered into the living room with a leftover birthday cupcake. At least it's actual food, I thought to myself and continued typing. 

Although I rarely take time to imagine myself in his tiny shoes, I'm sure it's hard to be two. To want to see, hear, touch, taste, smell the world, every last fiber of every. single. thing.

Then there's the parents. They're nice and all, but when you're about to make a mind-altering discovery, just then they arrive to snatch it away, rushing in with wild and unsubstantiated claims like, "Don't touch it; it's hot!" Or "You cannot put a basketball in the toilet," "Towels do not belong in the sink, sir" Or "Only papers are for coloring, not walls, please." Outrageous. 

I do wish he could think of me though. I am tired at the end of the day. Exhausted and achy from snatching away sharp objects from uncomfortably close to the outlets, or moving the kitchen chairs away from the stove (again) or plucking plastic, paper, dirt and various rubbish from his salivating chops. 

Thoughts like, "Please, for the love, stop with the stunt man thing," or "You're killing me, Smalls," daily pass through my mind. And often, leave my lips.

But we're at the end of the day again, the time when I can see with 20/20 vision the good and the bad of how we live. And however selfish and ignorantly experimental he may be, one thing is undeniable: he's great with forgiveness. Forgets real or perceived offenses almost immediately. I wish he cared more about stuff I care about, like my feelings, for example, or things that should not be wet. But I appreciate that he's not holding my wrongdoings over my head. Because there are many.

If he spoke better English, we would have a heart-to-heart, and I would say, "I know we make each other mad some times, but we really have a lot to learn from one another.  You take some cues from me on where household items go and which places in the house standing and sitting is appropriate, and I will follow your lead on laughing more and that forgive and forget thing you've perfected." He would nod with a light bulb kind of look, and then we would give each other a hug and walk into the sunset. 

It'll be a great day when that happens. Until then, I'm just going to have to pray for patience. A lot. 

Good night. And here's to a thoughtful, prayerful, peaceful and on-purpose tomorrow. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How To Hear God, In Case You Forgot (Cause I Did)

I took several weeks off writing regularly. It's not good for my soul, but I did it anyway. Like when you quit going to the gym, and then you realize you're miserable and sluggish, but then you make lots of excuses about not having enough energy or not wanting to go. It gets really whiny and irritating. It was exactly like that. 

Today I wrote for a few minutes and it all bubbled back, the honesty, the simplicity, the truth of how I feel and who God is. I found him. I found me. Aaahhh.

It was easy, once the words started flowing, to realize where I am, the raw goodness of this place. Simply taking the time to actually say what is happening in my life – just the facts of right now, out loud or on paper – stirs up gratitude

On any given day, there are a million frustrations, but they are tiny. And they feel smaller after a nap. When I zoom out and look at the big picture, at the past week or month, I can see the movement. I can see the goodness of God and the comfort that he hasn’t let me go, even though I am still so tired and desperately unaware of my need for him.

I’m disappointed that I do not spend more time in prayer, the kind that results in change. Or simply the kind that results in me knowing what to do with my life. When I do pray, when I really listen, things happen. 

I forget though. I try to do things on my own and get frustrated. The noise still silences The Great Whisperer, who refuses to shout over the din of everyone else

But I love that about God. He muses calmly and confidently, “No, I’m not playing the shouting game. I will not compete with the idols for your attention. I will not jump into the anxiety arena and stress you out with my voice." 

"No, you have to be quiet first. You have to come to me, like a child, simply, almost silently. It’s good for you to do it. When you’re quiet, you remember you do not have to impress me. You remember that I am not just another idol demanding your time, shouting for your attention. You remember that I’m the place you leave the stress and where you find your peace." 

"You have to get quiet to hear me, but I don’t feel bad about that at all. I know that's exactly what you need."

"You’re welcome.”

[Photo credit:]