“Reentry”...it's such a rugged word! I’m not referring to the version of “rugged” that’s most often used to describe something as being (extra) manly, with a GQ(ish) stubbly chin and a plaid flannel shirt, stretched tightly over upper body muscles, that threaten to burst seams and loosen buttons while this “rugged” guy chops heaps and heaps of wood aimlessly. OH- NO, sister! We’re talking rugged as in space-travel reentry, rugged.
A slough of other, less than lovely, descriptors scamper along supportively through my mind when I think of rugged, as in 'barreling through the atmosphere'. None of which could EVER be classified as lovely. The words rough, bumpy, awkward, painful, uncomfortable, hot, miserable, potentially lethal, etc., come to mind. Now you’re seeing it, right?! Reentry...ick!
So, let’s pretend, for a minute, that the moon, outer space or the great beyond, represent my family’s most recent vacation. It was tremendous! It was amazing! I can't wait to share all about it! We discovered new lands, blazed new trails. We met new people and enjoyed many old ones. We deeply loved EVERY second of it. Truthfully, we didn’t want our Smith family adventure to end, but it had to end. The job and our house and our scheduled return flight, all beckoned us back to reality.
Now we’re re-entering normal life. No more vacation living and reentry hurts! Rather than bumping through earth’s atmosphere the way astronauts do, we’re verbally and emotionally colliding with one another and all our intense relational friction is setting us a blaze.
We’re physically exhausted and emotionally thin. We’re weepy and gristly, not to mention a little sickly. Oddly, I didn’t see the trauma of reentry coming. Maybe I didn’t anticipate it because we don’t vacation often and morning number one of reentry, started off just fine...famous last words, right?!
Morning one started something like this: I got up and started some coffee. My three older kids happily watched a movie and my littlest joy wanted a bath. Piece of cake...at least it should have been.
I happily sipped coffee and fed bites of banana to my bathing beauty while she played with her dress-up bath-toy sponge people. I stepped out of the bathroom for mere minutes (2...maybe), to pop an English muffin into the toaster. I returned to the bathroom to find a guilty little face and a foul confession, “I pooped in my bath”.
Yes, I've written about this same little one’s terrible and traumatizing (for me) poop-capades once before. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often in our family. My first EVER foul encounter was when my oldest daughter was only one. After that, a long, long bath + poop dry spell was ushered in. We didn’t experience another bath issue until this very year; 2 girls later. So, this morning Nyla blessed her bath for a second time. It doesn’t really matter how scrumptious a kid is (and she's really quite scrumptious), bath time blessings (poops) are ALWAYS awful and wrong!
The morning crumbled from there...
My once content older kids transformed into trolls as arguments picked up where their movie left off. They fought over what to watch next and who should choose. Each grizzly child abrasively argued their case and then communication devolved further with fights over who should have choosing authority. Unity vanished and a once clean tub of bath water was replaced with gallons and gallons of bleach water.
I can’t help but wish, as I stare at our tub full of sanitizing solution, for a way to sanitize my kids’ interactions with one another. Obviously bleach water is NOT an appropriate cure for all my woes, but wouldn't it be sooo lovely if there were such a thing as a relationship fixer/cleaner spritzer?! I know I can't be the first mama to imagine the bliss of that possibility. With just a few squirts all the storm clouds would vanish and the negativity and grouchiness would be swapped with sweetness. For now, Mario Kart seems to be doing the trick (well enough), but I know the Wii is just a diversion.
So, to all you mom’s who have felt, or are feeling, the unpleasantness of “reentry”, I get it!! I 100% sympathize. There’s one thing that comforts me on days like these; it’s the knowledge that it won’t last forever! This relieving reality also occasionally turns on me and brings me to premature mourning over the loss of my young family...as if it’s nearly all gone and slipping from my grasp like a vain attempt to hold water in my hands.
Quick side note to all the sweet, precious grannies out there, who comb supermarket aisles looking for frazzled mamas (like myself). I know how you love to impart nostalgic wisdom like, “Enjoy these moments, because they’ll be gone before you know it.”, I have to have to confess...in the midst of the mess and the crazy, with my hair flying everywhere and my mascara puddling under my right eye (the way it unexplainably does), as my kids scatter in four different directions while I attempt to checkout, your wisdom (and it truly is wisdom) feels a bit like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Oh how I wish I could bottle the wonderful pieces of parenthood and simply liberate myself from the awful(ish) parts; sorta like a moment by moment version of 'catch and release'. I’d hold onto that perfect evening last week full of Midwest wonder and fireflies and release the bulk of today.
Still, reentry woes and all, I LOVE my crazy, messy, life and wouldn’t trade it for another. I hope you feel the same way.
Over the past year and half that I’ve lived amongst YOU, northwesterners, I’ve noticed something interesting about, not all, but the bulk of you. You’re amazing, beautiful, deep and soulful, but something (I’ll call it...unusual) happens when you’re in shopping scenarios; i.e: grocery stores, convenience stores, Target and the like; the majority of you ignore one another...and ME.
For months I thought that possibly I was encountering isolated pockets of isolationists; reclusive sorts who forced themselves out of reclusion ONLY in extenuating circumstances, (like to replenish the t.p. supply). But, after months and months of study and observation and intense loneliness, I’m now convinced that this public isolationism is a real and pervasive thing, unique to this green and gorgeous northwestern region of the U.S.
I wasn’t going to write about it. I wasn't even going to bring it up. But the more it sat with me and the more I thought about it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay silent. I’ve never been good at pretending. Plus, this is FAR too important to me!
I planned on saying nothing about this...thing, because I didn’t think my words would make a difference. I imagined each letter floating through the air, settling to the ground and eventually washed into the Puget Sound, never to be considered again. But I’ve decided to address this thing because I’m choosing to believe that ALL of us (humans), for as long as we have breath in our lungs, are capable of change. We’re capable of greater things than we were yesterday. There are exceptions (of course); sometimes, for various reasons, bitterness, discouragement, sadness and depression settle in and stay a while...because life can brings us to our knees. And during those times maybe growth slows, BUT those lows can make us greater. Because once the cloud lifts, we’re left with an upgraded ability to approach life (and our fellow sojourners) with more love, forgiveness, grace and dignity than we were capable of yesterday, because we’ve grown! So, in the spirit of believing for better, I think it’s time we have a little chat!
For those of you who have not lived in this area, nor have visited and experienced the cold, I see you (in my mind's eye), scratching your heads curiously. Not originally being from here, I can understand how grasping this scene could be a hard thing to imagine and perplexing at best. So, let me paint you a picture. This is what shopping in the northwest looks like (to me): upon entering any store, most shoppers try their hardest to not look directly at one another or acknowledge each other’s presence/existence. There are some smiles, but they are few and even fewer words pass between customers. When shoppers need to pass one another in an aisle, it’s customary to either squeeze the cart through the available opening without uttering ANYTHING, such as “excuse me”, “pardon” or even “sorry” OR the other option, is to wait silently for the aisle-blocker to sense their need to move and accommodate the waiting party. Nearly 100% of the time, the store employees are lovely, welcoming, friendly and cheery. Customer service is NOT the problem...the customers are!
I promise that this ‘come to Jesus’ post isn’t coming from a place of personal unhappiness with living here, because I truly love it ALL! The green and the water and the mountains; it’s stunning! It’s striking! It’s breathtaking! And when the sun shines bright, everything shimmers and the hills come alive. I think it’s more magical here than anywhere else in this majestic country! And I truly LOVE the people. They’re deep and soulful and open (once you get to know them). But this ONE thing has got to change!
Why does this social phenomenon exist?? Seriously, who really knows! We could speculate...I’m sure it could be due to any number of things, like the dark, dreary, 8 to 9 month long fall/winters or maybe vitamin D deprivation makes people feel unfriendly. Honestly, I could psychoanalyze this idiosyncrasy till the cows come home, but I don’t think any amount of psychoanalysis will adequately answer the question or make it OK that I feel invisible!
The impact of this cultural quark (if you will) hit me REALLY hard two weeks ago. My family and I took a little vacation down to Sunny southern California to visit family. My parents swung by the airport to pick up our kids while my husband and I stayed behind to deal with the details of our rental car.
Being childless and FREE, stop number 1 was Trader Joe’s, for some groceries...and this is where I nearly wept before strangers.
Within minutes of being in this store, no less than 5 fellow customers smiled at me (warmly). Note: these smiling customers weren’t teenage boys are flirtatious, straying men or even legitimately single, flirtatious men. They were all women: warm, wonderful, smiling women. And one particular woman beamed for at least half a minute after we parted ways. I watched her walk away with her big, sweet smile still rounding out her cheeks. After more than a year a half of public isolation, right there, in the beer and wine section of the market I nearly lost it. I was no longer invisible.
This is what smiling does for us and for other; it fills us up! It warms the atmosphere and lightens our souls! A smile says, “I see you, I acknowledge you, you’re worthy of my attention (if only for a smily second), you’re valuable and welcome in this space”.
Maybe it’s odd that I could glean so much from a smile. Honestly smiles never used to feel like such massive gestures. But then I moved, and the smiles disappeared and suddenly I realized how naturally I began to assume negative things about myself and the people around me. I’d think, “she must be having a terrible day and that’s why she’s not willing to smile...poor thing” or “that man isn’t smiling at me because he’s judging me. He probably thinks I’m a crazy hot-mess of a mom with wild and unruly kids...now I feel really awful” or “I wonder if I forgot to put on deodorant this morning...maybe that’s why no one wants to be near me. I must be repulsive” or “not even an excuse me...was she/he born in a barn?? Where have common courtesies gone?”
I hadn’t realized until that very moment, in Trader Joe’s, how this simple gesture of acknowledgement and warmth meant so much to me. While living in SoCal-land, I’d COMPLETELY taken these exchanges for granted. The possibility never occurred to me that they might not readily exist EVERYWHERE. So there I stood, tears blurring my vision over the sweetness of being acknowledged and welcomed, by not just one, but multiple strangers. And none of them could have ever known how desperately I’d missed it, how deeply alone I’d felt (for months and months), EVEN while being surrounded by a store full of bodies.
While visiting my native land, I talked to some people about this particular stark difference between the two western cultures (northern and southern). One response, my Dad’s, stood out to me the most. He said, “be a catalyst for change”. His words sorta grated on me at first. At the time, my loneliness felt fresh and my cynicism levels were HIGH. I declared, with fervor, that it would be impossible for one smiling person to change an entire state of people whose culture insists upon ignoring the existence of one another. But, here I am, back home, in Washington state and his suggestion is still lingering in my mind.
So, although many of YOU, my beautiful, deep and soulful fellow northwesterners, may have a bit of blind spot, I’m choosing to believe for greater things than were possible yesterday. Because this is important! We need each other! Life was never intended to be lived in isolation!
Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to be a catalyst (I hope). I’m going to look directly at you and smile warmly. Maybe you’ll think I’m a crazed grinning lady...or maybe I’ll brighten your day a little. Maybe it’ll be contagious and smiles will get passed around a little less reluctantly. And who knows, come February, even though it’s dreary outdoors, maybe indoors life will feel a little sunnier.
What does "God bless you", mean?? I’ve been sifting it lately, trying to get to the root. It feels right to say it when that stranger in the grocery aisle sneezes. I don’t know why...it just does. It feels like a compassionate gesture of solidarity. It’s like in saying "God bless you", what we’re really saying to each other is, "I acknowledge YOU (and your sneeze). There’s no need for embarrassment. Even though you honked that wet, beastly sneeze out, I want you to know I’ve been there too. We’re in this together!" The blessing is usually offered with a comforting wink and smile, and typically returned with a bashful, "Thank you".
But beyond the confines of sneezes, "God bless you", has always been that one phrase; the one that doesn’t roll off my tongue well. When I consider using it, it gets hung up somewhere in the back of my throat, in that space where my ‘nervous spit reserves’ are stored; just for moments like this, so my emergency ‘nervous spit’ can strategically pile up around my words forming an impassable blockade.
For those of us who grew up "Christian", we’re well acquainted with the specific scenarios where "God bless you" is customary and merited. The scenarios include, but are not limited to, the completion of a selfless act such as helping stranded motorists, walking blind elderly pedestrians across busy intersections and caring for the homeless. "God bless you", is also widely used when Christians meet fellow Christians at random. But being that I can’t seem to form the words unless initiated by a sneeze, has made me wonder (at times), what my issue is.
All this blessing business began to trouble me EXTRA, this week...
As I rolled to a stop at the end of my freeway exit, I could see him. I knew he would be there. He’s always there. Standing at his corner, in his spot; ankle deep in parched, yellow clumps of untrimmed grass and weeds. He holds a sign that says something about food and money and maybe a job too. Last week his sign said he was a vet.
For years I evaded the searching glances of the "corner dwellers". I’d approach the intersections with caution, doors (double) locked. Once pinned between the red light and that forlorn expression, I’d feel suddenly inspired to carefully examine the carpet and the passenger seat or maybe aimlessly scroll through my phone for anything to keep me from having to make eye contact.
Eye contact was the last thing I wanted because making eye contact means I can’t deny that I’ve seen him. I can’t ignore him and his needs. I can’t just flee this scene of insufficiency in my comfortable, working vehicle; retiring in relief to my provision-filled life.
About a year ago. I met a girl who works with the homeless population of downtown Seattle. She confessed to me that she also used to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame over having so much in the presence of someone who has seemingly nothing. She understood the burden of wanting to do something; anything, but feeling overwhelmed by the blatant magnitude of the problem.
Cuz 5, 10, 20 or even a hundred dollars isn’t the cure...it’s a band-aid. Offering money might ease my conscience, but that person will (most likely) still be standing on that corner tomorrow, looking for more.
While understanding of my struggle, this person challenged me to see the homeless ‘corner dwellers’ differently. Not as mere unabashed beggars, working that sympathy card, but as fellow humans, worthy of acknowledgement. Maybe money is an appropriate gesture...but maybe it’s not. Maybe money is an impossible gesture, but eye contact, a smile or a small wave go far to affirm a person and their value; acknowledging that they possess real thoughts, emotions and obvious struggles. These simple, nearly effortless interactions are offerings of compassion.
So, over the past year I’ve been intentionally, cheerfully acknowledging the homeless men and women who pace the roadside near my car. I don’t have cash to share, but what I have I give often and freely: granola bars and water.
Which brings me to the incident…
The paragraph earlier, about the familiar guy who stands at my freeway exit with his sign...he’s real. Over the past few months I can’t tell you how many granola bars and water bottles I’ve off-loaded on him. He’s always very appreciative. When I have nothing physical to offer, I make it a point to smile and acknowledge his presence.
There were a couple of weeks where I had nothing to offer and could spare only smiles, but as I was leaving my house a few days ago, his weathered face came to my mind. Having gone shopping, I made sure to load my purse with snacks for him before darting out the door.
I was just about home from spending a lovely, kid-free afternoon with a dear friend, and there he was, on his corner, as usual. I suddenly remembered my stash and quickly rolled down my window to hand them over. He accepted them sweetly and you wouldn’t believe what awkwardly came out of my mouth as the light began to turn green… “God bless you”.
The entire 2 mile stretch, from the freeway exit to my front door, I spent in stunned disbelief. How did those words so easily tumble out of my mouth?? Why had I said it? Of course I wanted God to bless him, but I’ve never felt comfortable saying "God bless you". Those words belonged with nuns and grandmothers, but not me. Even as I spoke them, I wondered why I was saying them. The words felt so flat and forced. What had compelled me to say "God bless you"? I wished desperately that he had sneezed!!
Was I trying to make a shrouded proclamation that this benevolent granola-bar wielding philanthropist was assuredly a Christian? Did I say it because I believed those words would change something within him or alter his circumstances somehow?? I wondered if he felt God’s blessing. I wondered if my words settled in his ears, leaving him with more questions than answers.
Here’s the thing...I think that generations of old have shared the phrase, "God bless you" with passion and fervor. They meant it and the recipients appreciated the sentiment. It worked because when people heard it, the interpretation was, "God loves you" or "I wish HIM to be with you". The problem for me is this: I don’t know that "God loves you" is the contemporary interpretation. I kind of think it’s not. Times have changed and people have changed. The old one-liners don’t work like they used to...they don’t even work well on us church folk. Possibly "God bless you" has become cliche.
So, today I saw a shirt that said, "Non-believers doing good, doing good for goodness sake". I have to admit, it sort of irritated me, but writing this now, I think there’s a deeper issue there that might need to be addressed...and it’s a hard one. We, Christians, struggle to just love and help and obey the silent urgings of our hearts without publicly claiming the deed for God.
The electronic Bible has entirely revolutionized Christian life. I think we can all agree that having continuous access from our phones or tablets is such an advantage over the old “cart your Bible around” way of reading. I have to confess, ‘YouVersion’ has pretty much become my lifeline! For those of you reading and scratching your heads, I'll fill you in. 'YouVersion' is a downloadable Bible application, and for this busy mama, that Bible app has spoonfed me spiritual nourishment more times than I can count.
I’ve perched on the edge of my toilet seat, or maybe more accurately, hidden myself away, phone in hand, reading that "verse of the day" and trying to ignore the tiny fingers pursuing me through the gap beneath the door. Honestly, ANY awkward place is fair game and entirely good enough, when I'm nearing the brink of breakdown! As you might imagine, having 4 kids brings me to the rear edge of sanity rather often. So, cheers to you, Bible app, for helping to hold the pieces of my mind together!
So yes, obviously I believe that having quick and easy access to a Bible is a tremendous thing, but there’s another VERY significant impact that the e-Bible has had on American society. I think not even the visionaries of this tech could have foreseen the extent of the impact they would have.
The development of the e-Bible has stripped away an element of legalism from the arsenal of Christian religiousness. It's likely that the generation behind mine isn’t even aware of the shift, but for me, this is really BIG one!
Before I jump into talking about legalism, which I know can be a real hot button issue for many, I want to VERY clear about something: there are many amazing, beautiful, wise and balanced Christians who don't take issue with the things that I take issue with. Some of these church "rules" drive me absolutely buggy, even so, I'm comfortable with our differences. I promise that I won't judge you if we disagree. Acknowledging our differences, being able to discuss them rationally and still embrace one another, makes us stronger, well rounded and more sensible humans. I sincerely believe that our true and greatest strength (as Christians) lies in our ability to love each other WELL in the midst of our differences and our diversity (in all its forms). Because if we can’t love each other well, how can we ever begin to successfully love those who have no context for God’s love?? Sharing a faith requires that we agree on at least a couple foundational truths (i.e. the path to salvation), but beyond that, the road splinters a bit. And honestly, it’s ok that it does. Heaven and earth will not collapse if we Christians disagree, but it might if we fail to love.
Now on to the gritty (legalism) stuff: I grew up in a time before E-Bibles. Geez, that makes me sound soooo old! Here’s how things have changed: when I was a kid it was customary and expected for church attendees to EACH bring a Bible with them to church. I'm not really sure if this tradition was unique to U.S. churches or if it was a worldwide phenomenon, but it likely grew out of a need. Before overhead projectors or powerpoint presentations, and likely even before churches packed their pew backs with Bibles galore, people needed to bring their Bibles so they could follow along with the sermons. It made perfect sense early on, but somewhere along the way the need diminished but oddly the expectation didn't. The expectation didn’t merely remain but it increased. It got more stringent and mutated into a religious rule.
As a kid, I remember being instructed to bring my Bible every Sunday. There were "bring your Bible" incentives, where kids could earn points for bringing a Bible. On the days when I lacked one, the result was either a shaming look of disapproval or the question: “So...you didn’t bring your Bible??”. Even as a child, the "bring your Bible rule" (as I call it), made me feel so ashamed of myself, so...less than satisfactory.
I remember over hearing conversations about the virtue of not showing verses in full text within the sermon’s powerpoint notes because it would deincentivize attendees from using their Bibles on Sunday mornings. It was as if the belief was that somehow spiritual growth and maturity could be tied directly to one’s ability to tote a Bible on Sundays and navigate to a scripture reference. It still confounds that this perspective was ever considered sound logic, rather than an a blatant attempt to control and manipulative behavior.
After reading just a couple of my blog post, I imagine ANYONE could easily discern that I'm a touch rebellious. Not outwardly nor overtly...at least I don't think so. I'm definitely not rebellious in a dark, deviant or delinquent, 'anarchy rules!' sort of way, but rebellious none the less. I'm NOT quick to submit to authority or comply with the traditions or "rules" that seem arbitrary to me, specifically rules attached to spirituality.
I’ve always been analytical, but as a kid I was much more submissive than questioning. I craved the affections and respect of the spiritual authorities in my life. The things both directly stated and loosely inferred from the pulpit seemed unquestionable to me; above reproach and most dangerously, I considered them to be as pure as if delivered by God himself. Thankfully I did NOT attend any evil, abusive churches. The pastors and congregants were well intended Christians doing the best they knew how to do. But legalism was pervasive. I embraced all the rules and lived consciously by them. I imposed them on others, thinking it was right. I believed that God wanted me (and all Christians) to live meticulously restricted lives. Why did I believe this?? Well, it doesn’t actually make ANY sense other than, it was my context.
Through the years I've learned to assess things differently and I’ve grown away from my legalistic roots. But in growing away, I’ve become a bit intense about church quirks. I get kind of worked up over this stuff because these little requirements; these artificial “rules”, they can twist our minds up. They can bind us and restrain us from experiencing an authentic, truth filled relationship with God and others. Religious legalism deeply impacted me and I still fight against these tendencies within me. These “rules” have the power to unwittingly shape the way we perceive ourselves and God. They also HUGELY shape the way we imagine God thinks about us.
What I am quick to do these days is analyze and question. I pick the "rule" or instruction to pieces. I look at it from every angle. Some, like my Dad, have assessed that I’m capable of finding angles to address that might not actually exist, and he’s probably right. I've been known to go a little overboard. I'll be the first to admit that my analytical side is both a strength and a weakness, but this who I am. So, as with all things in life, the challenge is finding balance, right?!
Sifting tradition to glean truth is SO important! Is God a nickle and diming tyrant, looking for opportunities to punish us or is he loving, merciful, forgiving and generous? I have to be honest, he can’t be both. Those qualities are opposites. If God is loving, merciful, forgiving and generous and pro-freewill, then he’s not taking role call on Sunday mornings. He’s not even casually noticing who’s present and who isn’t. He doesn’t require me to come with my Bible. He’s not going to try to manipulate my behavior with sideways glances and rhetorical questions.
He sees my heart and my motives. And those two things matter the most to him. Our hearts are his true pursuit. He doesn’t care if I put my hands up or leave them down. He’s not at all interested in whether I did the whole ‘stand up’, ‘sit down’ thing and then carefully took out my checkbook and inserted the VERY FIRST check written, following payday, into the offering basket.
He wants my heart, but he wants me to freely give it. If I’m giving my heart because I want to fall in line or because “good Christians” are supposed to submit, or maybe I feel coerced somehow, or I want someone to notice my "good deeds"...then where is my heart really??? I’d say it's focused on pleasing man. I don't say this to condemn or stir up guilt. I say it because I'm familiar with those motives. The desire to please others was my main focus for years. I followed directions for the purpose of following directions and my top desire was to please man.
Today, this girl (me), cannot stand being fenced in especially in Jesus' name. I say "especially" because I believe that many of our religious fences are actually human-made boundaries, not truly positioned by God for our betterment.
Here's what all my rebellious energy shapes up to looks like today: when a worship pastor tells me to stand for worship, every muscle in my body fights to stay sitting...and sometimes I just do (stay sitting). When someone tells me to worship by raising my hands, right now, uhhhh...no! I’m not going to lift my hands till I feel it in my heart. And hearing someone say, "raise your hands" sadly, usually makes the "feeling it" part, take quite a bit longer to happen.
This is sort of a lame-o example, but even when that person in front instructs me to bow my head and close my eyes for a prayer...you get the idea, eyes open or eyes closed, there's nothing more righteous, spiritual or reverent about either. God never said, “Here’s how you pray. You ready?? Make sure you close your eyes...oh yeah, and bow your head!”. I'm not interested in simply following directions. I want the directives to have a value and a purpose.
Can I also confess that I really enjoy the fact that I can walk into church these days with my Bible stealthfully hidden within the confines of my phone. Even though I’m technically toting my Bible, it almost feels to me like a liberating act of defiance...cuz no one can be sure (except for me) that it's really there. Ok, so maybe I still have some issues to work through...
But my grandparents were taught that God disapproved of dancing and movie theaters, but where were the verses to support those rules?? Although I grew up with MUCH less spiritual regulation in my life than my grandparents' generation did, the “rules” still impacted me. So, my husband and I are consciously raising our kids to recognize our human tendency towards legalism. My prayer is that our grandkids will be freer than any of us. I’ve seen heavy chains of religious legalism crumble with the invention of the Bible app and I know more chains are loosening!
Every Sunday and most Wednesday evenings we were there; somewhere in the middle, folded into the masses, tucked between other sets of grown ups and their offspring, singles and the elderly. We all knew the (unspoken) rules for the other sections. The back group of pews were for the “wiggly kid” families: the parents who needed to have one ear in and one ear out, covertly entertaining while attempting to partake. Back there was also where I imagined the uncertain but inquisitive looky-loos sat alongside the shy prodigals. The front section of pews were the opposite. No one ever sat there. Aside from the periodic overachiever or eager beaver, the front two sets of pews were always left ceremoniously empty, reserved solely for the pastoral team.
Some mornings, the pastor’s rhythmic words made my eyelids feel like semi trucks had parked on top of them. Holding the weight of them open seemed to require superpowers and a strength that I didn’t possess. Other times I doodled on bulletins, transforming the hymnal into a makeshift table. I used to draw what I imagined the ultimate R.V. might look like. Each sketch was essentially a mansion on wheels; absurdly impossible to physically construct or use for any sort of road trip!! With numerous levels and an oversized glistening swimming pool, how did I ever imagine that beast would squeeze under over passes??
Instead of drawing, sometimes I’d sit and stare up at the mammoth ‘70’s era lights that dangled ominously from the cathedral ceiling. I’m sure each one weighed as much as a car. Even with their dark wood framing, each hanging cylinder faintly resembled L.A.’s iconic Capitol Records Building. I’d imagine that instead of lights, they were actually futuristic hotels or high rise apartments hovering between Earth and its atmosphere.
On rare occasions, the pastor would speak casually enough for me to tune in. The types of messages that held my attention (for a couple of minutes) were sermons with stories. Personal stories, Biblical stories, any sort of story, it didn’t matter; I just loved hearing stories
Through the years, through a dozen churches, and numerous pastors, I’ve listened to a hefty number of Old Testament stories; Exodus stories in particular. In a nutshell, they usually sounded something like this: God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He fed them, clothed them, led them through an unfamiliar wilderness and helped them conquer their enemies. Through it all, his presence was VERY obvious, hardly any faith was needed; pillar of fire by night, cloud by day, and he literally spoke to them. But the Israelites were unhappy and began to long for the slavery they’d just been freed from. They “complained and murmured”. Even after experiencing miracle after miracle after miracle, the Israelites decided to honor man-made gods and statues in the shape of animals rather than the one true God who was literally in their midst.
As a kid, teenager and young adult, I struggled to find the take away. One question always plagued me: how could the Israelites be so dense?? Having not yet encountered my own season of personal crisis, I oozed self righteousness and judgement.
For years I wondered why God would choose these people who, because of their lack of faith, were destined to roam the wilderness. I couldn’t grasp why God would want people who he knew would turn away from him. None of it made any sense to me. I thought, if I had been God, I never would have fought so hard for someone I knew would cheat on me and break my heart.
So...about a week ago I opened up my Bible to the Old Testament. This was a completely unnatural choice for me. Reading the Bible usually means making a beeline for ANYTHING in the New Testament. The Old Testament has always been the dustiest part of my Bible. The newer, Jesus and post-Jesus stuff, has always felt more applicable somehow; food for today. But, somehow I found myself in the book of Jeremiah.
The story of the young prophet Jeremiah, was one I’ve always loved. Truthfully I didn’t remember ANYTHING about his prophetic message to Israel, but the part about him being called by God when he was just a child amazed me. The first thing he ever heard God say to him was, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” But Jeremiah, so aware of his age (his youth), told God he couldn’t be his messenger because he was “only a child”. But God said, “Do not say I am only a child…”
God’s answer to Jeremiah could have given me enough strength for multiple days. Even at thirty...something, I still feel like a ridiculous child with a pathetic, shaky voice and weak knees. I’m easily distracted by judging spectators and afraid of being dismissed as “crazy” by people I care for.
I kept reading deep into chapter 2 and started feeling awed by the poetic imagery of the words.
“How can you say, ‘I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there, a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving-in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her. Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, ‘It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.” Jeremiah 2:23-25
The message was poetic but VERY strong. The Israelites were blind to the nature of the things that allured them. They were literally chasing after physical, emotional and mental bondage, choosing slavery to their desires over love, prosperity and protection. None of the things that bound the Israelites looked dark, ominous or corrosive from a distance. Their temptations didn’t snarl at them or bear bloody teeth. They shimmered and glittered, luring them in as a siren might, only to devour them from the inside out.
Suddenly, for the first time EVER, I could identify with the Israelites.
I started to review in my mind all the things I’ve pursued in my life; the “Baals” I’ve revered and occasionally worshiped, the shiny things I haven’t wanted to uncurl my fingers from, the cravings I’ve indulged even when I’ve felt God saying to me, “Be careful with that...it’s getting its hooks in you. It’s starting to enslave you”. I’ve shrugged off the warnings and sometimes ignored them, because I reasoned that I could have misunderstood the message. His voice isn’t easy to hear and sometimes he isn’t very clear...right??
No longer were the Israelites the daft and deeply rebellious herd of vagabonds I always thought they were...they were me.
But threaded through God’s pain, frustration and sadness was a constant and beautiful theme of LOVE! The story of the relationship between God and his people (the Israelites) is heartbreaking but his love was relentless, pursuing and passionate. In spite of their frailties and missteps, God refused to leave his people. He refused to give up on them...just like God refuses to give up on us, EVEN when our shame tells us we deserve for him to abandon us.
Through the words of Jeremiah, I could hear God declaring over his people, speaking to me (and YOU), “I’ve made you for more. I created you for greater, for bigger, for better. And I know that sometimes it’s hard to see truth through the fog of “Baals”, but through the murk and haze, the truth of my love remains.
If a MASSIVE tidal wave surged DEEP inland and miraculously lapped across Bellevue, Washington, taking all the baby dolls along the west coast out to sea with its exit, my two youngest girls and their powerful imaginations would still find a way to play “babies”. They might mother a couple of large rocks or maybe a few baby-sized logs. However strange and awkward it might end up looking, they’d press right on with their imaginary play and they likely wouldn’t miss a beat.
These precious girls have an astounding stamina for playing “family”, in particular. Each day begins with a continuation of the previous day’s charade. Sometimes they'll round up all the baby dolls in the house (we have A LOT of them), and they’ll begin mothering the whole heap.
There are times where, instead of dragging all the babies out from under our numerous beds, they personally assume the roles of mother and baby. Sometimes an auntie or a grandma is introduced. I’m usually given the title of grandma. I’m a rather resistant, rebellious, UNenthusiastic grandma; clinging to my youth! My girls will chatter out a script as they play. Usually, Nyla (my 2 year old) suggests wonderful ideas that are shot down and quickly rescripted by my, almost 6 year old daughter, Sofia. A YES/NO yelling match then breaks out and sometimes they go to blows over which baby is whose daughter and who’s actually an auntie and not a mommy. In person, these Smith family brawls are a lot like punishment, but recounting them is a whole lot of fun.
As kids, my sister and I had really impressive imaginations too. On family road trips we’d occasionally entertain ourselves by (each of us) scooping up the lower half of one of our legs. We’d cradle the knee in one arm with the ankle in the other. It was remarkable really, how that lower leg made the perfect ‘insta-baby’. We could even rock that little baby-leg to sleep. I know, I know, it sounds clinically insane...I guess it sorta is. Maybe now, as you’re reading this, you’re beginning to rest back in your seat, starting to feel a bit disturbed; subconsciously trying to place some distance between you and this blog post. But don’t you dare judge! You know, you were a weird little kid too!! We all were!
My sister and I had a rare and valuable ability to imagine anything into being! All of our Barbie furniture was sculpted and whittled out of hand towels and washrags. It sounds pathetic, but honestly we were completely happy with our terrycloth-laden Barbie decor. We never felt deprived until we visited that one kid’s house. We all know the kid, she was an “only child”. She embodied all that those quotation marks imply. She had more Barbies then a whole neighborhood of average, multi-kid families put together. This girl had the Barbie mansion and the pool, plus all the miniature matching furniture. She was also the kid who didn’t want anyone to adjust the positions of any of her things. Plus, we were forced to play with only one of her Barbies; the one she loved the least. That was probably around the time that I discovered that disgusting and thieving emotion; envy...laced with disdain. Ick!
All Envy aside, kids dream SO BIG! There are no limits or concerns for the absurdity of the thing. Kids never suggest to one another that they’re shooting too low by admiring the trash collector or the neighborhood gardener. They don’t ever poo-poo each other’s dreams by implying that when firefighters have to wait around for something to catch fire it can be pretty boring. They never tell each other to rethink that police idea because it's too dangerous, or that teaching and mothering pay very poorly. Kid dreams are fun and they inspire more dreams!
No little kid ever flops down in the grass, starring at the clouds, fantasizing about cubicle life! At least I don't think so...
My dream was to be an astronaut. Not even that ‘90’s movie, Apollo 13, and its depiction of the 1970 space disaster, was enough to dissuade me from my plan. For me, space was everything! I used to proclaim that I’d be the first female to walk on Mars. Like many kids, I transformed my bedroom ceiling into a glow-in-the-dark star filled sky. I didn’t realize, back then, that the job requires major math skills. I (very sadly) have none! So, upon learning the truth, I tearfully kissed Mars goodbye and sought out dream number 2 and then 3 and 4 and so on. You get the idea. For each season, a new dream was born.
Weeding through those myriad of dreams to find the one was important, but somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming BIG astronaut sized dreams. With each year my dreams got slightly smaller and easier to attain; more realistic, safer I guess. I’d grown bigger, and so had my fear. My fear of failure and my fear of rejection were larger motivators than the possibility of my dreams coming to life.
Why do we grow up and leave the big dreams and big dreaming behind?? Why does "growing up" have to mean that ‘big dreams’ equal ‘stupid dreams’? And when did we stop going to blows and engaging in YES/NO yelling matches over the script?? I’m not advocating violence or terrible communication, but maybe I (we) shouldn’t have been so quick to release those pure, beautiful dreams, imagining (naively) that they’d find their way back to us if they were truly meant to be ours (who really believes that steaming pile of wisdom anyway??).
I’m 100% certain that I was never truly meant for space. But I can’t help but think that there have been plenty of other dreams along the way that might have fit, but I (possibly) shrugged them off a touch too fast, discrediting my abilities or intellect or maybe I gave too much weight and power to the dissenting voices.
This is what I've come to believe. In spite of what life looks like right now (my life included), I believe we’re ALL meant for something amazing; something grander than today. Maybe it’s just over the next horizon. I know you feel it. I feel it too! Sometimes the path looks dismal, but I know that deep down you sense something magnificent is coming. It’s coming for YOU! Dream BIG again. Let yourself dream big and wide and unrestrained. Awaken the 'little kid' you; the girl or boy who didn’t care what anyone said when you declared your BIG dream with pride!
I owe a large chunk of my sanity to the gym. It’s not exclusively the exercise that keeps my thoughts cheery, it’s also coffee, sleep, girlfriends and...oh yeah, God (of course). But the gym...it sorta had me at “hello”. Gotta love (trustworthy) childcare. Seriously, what did we ladies do before gyms offered quality kid entertainment...scratch that, let’s go even further back, what did we mamas do before the invention of cartoons (primitive childcare)?? I don’t know that I can bring myself to even imagine life that way! I swear my kids don’t watch T.V. all day...
Back to our gym discussion! These days, for me, time at the gym equals one happy mama! Well, the equation isn’t foolproof, but you get the idea.
A couple days ago I was at the gym, attempting to harness a good mood. My exercise machine/regimen of choice: the elliptical. It burns thousands upon thousands of calories, FAST (or so I’ve convinced myself). In truth the real enticement for me is that it requires zero creativity. It’s my ‘hop on and check out’ workout.
I got on that machine, hoping to sweat the trials and drama of mamahood away. It was morning (not even mid-morning) but I was already emotionally wrung out from the pre-school routine which had included a good percentage of arguing and coaxing and possibly hair loss (on my part). I was dying to lose myself in some Pandora and (hopefully) return to motherhood a civilized(ish) woman.
Even as the first few notes from my “Bethel” channel began to play through my earbuds, I could feel peace and joy filling me. It was like an injection of elation that was growing and rising inside me. The mental and emotional switch was unmistakable because no amount of joy had been anywhere near me mere seconds before.
As my legs and arms pumped out the rhythm of the music, I started to feel a chill as my arm hairs began to stand at attention. A supernatural, holy sort of thing was happening. Amid a sea of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes I became acutely aware that I wasn’t alone. I could feel God all around me. He was keeping me company, placing his hand on my shoulder just long enough for me to notice his touch and calming my soul.
For some of you reading, I might be stretching those boundaries of comfort just a little. Trust me, I get it! I used to be quite the skeptic. My impulse, for most of my life, was to reject anything short of concrete. I crave facts and proof and all manner of things that require zero faith. Most of us (myself included) love our tidy, cozy little comfort zones; marked with bold, bright neon edges, coned off at the corners for extra protection. Staying within those borders is what holds the very fabric of our minds together. Without boundaries who knows what might happen. One might get CRAZY and radical; dare we say twitchy, irrational or quacky?? Maybe, and who wants to be any of that?? Not us!! No, Sir! But, I know we’ve all had these very moments...these God moments. I’m not the only one.
These experiences we’ve had, the ones that aren't easy to explain...something felt different about the space around you. Maybe it felt a bit supernatural, unearthly and indescribably beautiful. Perhaps you noticed the hairs on your arms stand straight up and you became aware of something mighty, something majestic. Sometimes we chalk those goose bumps up to the draftiness in the room or the breeze whirling through the trees, and sometimes it really is a draft or the breeze, but sometimes...it’s not. And truthfully, I think we all know the difference.
Maybe you felt Him as you carried on with the most mundane pieces of your life; the stuff that doesn’t seem like it deserves any amount of supernaturalness; while folding laundry or washing floors. Maybe you felt Him in the supermarket...or in your kitchen while you were scrubbing the dishes. Or maybe you were primed to notice Him standing right next to you as you stood on some beautiful peak overlooking a breathtaking expanse of Earth, or on that ocean’s shore watching the waves thunder powerfully against the sand.
As I exercised in excited, joy-filled awe, I wondered how many other sweat soaked bodies were experiencing what I was. I mean honestly, if God’s in the room, could I possibly be the only one aware of him?? Or maybe he came just for me, so it could be just us...just me and him (and my elliptical).
A girlfriend of mine shared a story with me not many weeks ago about a man she knew who’d died once. This friend of hers had been pronounced dead, but after a few minutes of death his heart started beating again. He’d recounted his experience of “crossing over”. He said that while he was dead, he had a distant perspective on the world, as if he were seeing it from outer space. From his vantage point he saw thousands upon thousands of beams of light bursting from the Earth’s surface in little pin-sized points. They weren’t isolated to any one location but originating from everywhere. The beams of light were people who have a relationship with God.
So, I wondered...during my supernatural exercise/worship time, had my “beam of light” blazed brighter and stronger than usual. Were people in heaven seeing my light? In the spiritual realm, did my YMCA elliptical look like a fiery searchlight-exercise machine?? Was my light beam boring a hole straight through the atmosphere and directly into the throneroom of heaven?? Or maybe what worship creates is a lightning-like event; as we reach up towards God, he reaches back, joining his power and energy to ours in a huge flaming bolt of electricity. I don’t know…
But I have to confess...I didn’t want that workout session to end. I wanted it to last forever. It was peace and joy and hope and I needed ALL of it! Before the gym, I’d tried to uncoil my mind and my emotions from that tightly wound ball of tension but all the chaos wouldn’t stop clinging to me. I couldn’t shake it. For that morning, it was as if me and God (and that elliptical) had a destiny all our own.
I want to humbly suggest that we’ve all felt God. We know when he's there and we know when he's not. Some of us experience these moments of awareness more of than others. Some of us would rather not talk about it. Possibly there are some who would prefer to not acknowledge any of it at all. I get it, but regardless of your faith or claim to none, regardless of logic, science, education or competence, each one of us...we’ve all felt Him at least once; that unexplainable but tangible thing. We can either choose to deny it OR we can open ourselves to the possibility that there’s more in this world than we can experience with our eyes, touch with our fingers or hear with our ears. Maybe, just maybe, there’s someone we can sense but can’t see.
This one goes out to all you moms who lay awake at night feeling...unsettled. You lay there perfectly poised for sleep; pillow neatly positioned; chin deep in blankets and fluffy comfort, but sleep plays hard to get. You're agitated and restless, distracted by the nature of the season you're in: parenting.
Here’s the thing about parenting: every darn day we work our hineys off, but there it still hangs, loose as ever...but that’s NOT the issue I’m here to discuss today. I just couldn’t resist saying what we’re all thinking about our post-kid hineys. Back to the real issue! Day after day we work unceasingly to love, shape and teach our tiny, mid-sized or large beautiful heaps of possibility (our children), but where is the proof that it’s sticking?? Where is the assurance that any of it is sinking in??
In truth we have no guarantees about how this whole thing is going to shake out. Parenting is one LONG walk of faith. We trust for what we may not be able to see (for a very long time) and hope for what we know is possible. We’re like deep space adventurers sending our best knowledge, our purest love, our dearest values, with our best efforts into a vast unknown. Day after day we scan those little faces, eagerly searching for a beacon of acknowledgement, a glimmer of understanding.
OK...here’s where all the obscure space analogies are coming from: it’s my third daughter (Sofia), she’s got me all riled up! She’s an amazing 5 year old and I love her. Her zeal and passion for all things (positively and negatively), it’s both beautiful and messy! In some ways I wish I were as uninhibited as she is in her approach to life...but in the same breath she makes me INSANE!
She’s bold and sooo willful. I know that someday, all her wonderful leadership qualities will work to her advantage, but in the meantime, what I’m dealing with is this: I say, “right”, she goes left. I say, “fast”, she slows her body down to a snail’s speed. A couple days ago she even said, “No-kay” to me. What the heck!? Where did she learn that?? My 10 year old doesn’t even say that!! I feel sometimes like these rough edges are just ingrained in the very fibers of her being. Maybe she has a little too much of her mama in her...I don’t know, either way I’m crazed!
All us mamas have been there; dancing along, peacefully parenting our conformists while simultaneously having to wrestle and struggling with our little anarchists. Nearly every family has a little of each...and if you don’t have any struggles, if you only have sweet little conformists, God bless you, but please keep it to yourself. I’m fragile!
Every now and then I feel it in my bones; I just know I’m on the cliffs of breakthrough with my Sofia. I see her struggling to harness her BIG attitude and all her desire to buck any resemblance of conformity. She’s an incredible little person, brimming with possibility. Daily she sits on the verge of shedding her little cave-lady ways. But even with all her raw wildness, she’s amazing, but the parenting struggle is real!
Within those beautiful glimpses of breakthrough, I see a glimmer of understanding and recognition and I begin to get a sense that all this hard mama work is paying off. It’s like a momentary peek into heaven. I can tell that she feels loved, that she feels valued and that she’s beginning to see the bigger picture. Then her little mouth produces something so pure and wise and true and in that moment I breath a temporary sigh of relief and think to myself, “Oh thank you God, we might just make it through this.”
But there have been and there still continues to be nights where I lay in my bed panicking, begging, pleading and considering if bribing God, might work to ensure my little sweeties (sometimes lunatics) grow to be wise, kind, compassionate, tenacious, brave, spiritual, human beings.
The other day as I was mulling over my parenting woes on the elliptical (at the gym), with “No-Kay!” ringing in my ears. I suddenly had a workout epiphany. Exercise always seems to shake loose my deeper thought. I could see that all my parenting frustrations had grown to the point where I was beginning to lose sight of the fact that parenting is a journey. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s day after day, one foot in front of the other. I’m the one who needs to be brave and kind, tenacious, wise, compassionate, and spiritual, cuz those are the qualities I want to impart to my babies. I can’t just pray them into existence and then (poof!) they materialize, I need to have them too!
Here's where it all begins for me: I must refuse to give space to the accusing, fear riddled voice inside me that believes the worst outcome is possible for my kids. I must refuse to compare myself OR my family to others, cuz we’re all on our own paths with different issues, different personalities and different circumstances. Comparison almost always equals unhappiness and when it doesn’t, it equals pride. Both are icky, icky things.
So, I'm going to be a brave mama! let's be brave mamas together! Let’s fix our eyes on the goal; the one we’re praying for, the one we’re hoping for. Let’s not get distracted, because our race isn’t about speed but endurance.
There are certain places in my life where revelation is an expectation and growth seems like destiny. My Tuesday morning moms group is one of those places. It’s not a typical moms group. We don’t sit around crafting (THANK GOD!!), battling for the top position of ‘goddess of homemade...stuff’. We don’t merely chat about child rearing best practices or all those other things one might imagine goes on in a weekly moms group.
I share a table with 8ish (depending on the week’s attendance) deep, soulful, introspective women. They consider the role of ‘mother’ to be a prized position, never to be taken lightly, but they don’t think of themselves as merely that either. They’re friends and lovers and writers and students. They’re feminists, rebels and devil’s advocates. We have seasoned moms and newbies mixed in with seminary grads and high school dropouts (I’m probably stretching it a little with the ‘dropout’ bit). But there we are, all of us in the chaos of parenting and the overall messiness of life...together.
This past Tuesday, we closed our table discussion with one very wise mom sharing a theory. She said something along the lines of this: each of us wear our own unique world-view/self-view set of glasses. The lens through which we look, informs all of our thoughts, perspectives and judgments (towards others and ourselves). She suggested that we each take a moment to remove our “lenses” and replace that lens with a fresh pair; God’s lens. As much of an effort as it might be, she offered that this could be an opportunity to see ourselves the way God does. Wiping each of our slates clean...no longer the loser, ‘never meeting the mark’ mom (the way so many of us moms feel) or that ‘type A’, overachieving mom, trying to juggle it all while still looking sane. No longer the fear riddled mom or baggage laden wanderer but...what?? Who or what does God say we are??
Quickly another mom (a brilliant mom), chimed in with a rival thought. It wasn’t entirely different, just a shift in perspective. She suggested that instead of changing our lenses to better view ourselves, we might consider adjusting our lenses to properly view God. This mom, whom I deeply respect, made a special point to say that if we could focus on God and his majesty, on his holiness and loveliness, than we’d have no need to see ourselves. We would, in essence, become a non issue for ourselves. No more obsessing over our weight or other physical issues that drag us down mentally and distract us. Around the table, none of us disagreed with either perspective.
After I left though, my analytical brain started working overtime. I began to think that although both perspectives were very wise, each lacked a fullness without the compliment of the other. It seemed the perfect depiction of the beauty of humanity and our need for one another. Balanced thinking doesn't happen alone, it requires multiple contributors.
So, here’s where I think the sweet spot lies: We need to see God for who he truly is; we need to see him accurately. Not as a punitive judge who acts like the Karma patrol, perfectly poised to spank us every time we act selfishly or sinfully. And not as a withholding, unloving, ungracious, bitter and unforgiving father. Not as a distant, detached or overly serious old man with a HUGE white beard up in the clouds...somewhere. But as the loving, generous, lavish, friendly, faithful, forgiving, powerful, pure and just God.
But If we focus only on who God is and cut ourselves out of the frame, we miss a significant piece of the picture...US. We’re nearly EVERYTHING to God. So we mustn't seek to minimize ourselves in such a way. God doesn't!
Strength comes when we marry who God is with who God says we are. He says to each of us, I love you ALWAYS. I want YOU and you're worth EVERYTHING to me. Your life is valuable. I’ve chosen you. You are forgiven and pure. You’re an overcomer and you don’t need to be bound by those burdens! You are beautiful and not a mistake!
If we place our identities in motherhood, a career, relationships, our abilities or our appearance...what happens when that thing (or things) we’ve cemented our value to is rocked?? Maybe that dream job disappears or the kids grow up and leave...or heaven forbid, we grow old and our outer beauty is replaced by deep, deep smile lines upon frown lines upon “elevens” (elevens - the two lines that separate one’s eyebrows)...and all we’re left with is the hope of all hopes that our inner beauty outshines that mountain of wrinkles. Geeeez!
Having inner beauty that covers any number of wrinkles is an admirable intention. But arriving there is a whole different thing. The truth is that none of us, including me, will ever possess genuine inner beauty, uncorrupted by selfishness, insecurity, jealousy or the preoccupation with that awful suspicion that others (all of them) live better and happier than us, unless we fasten our identity and value to that one immovable thing...God.
Here I am, just days away from another Mother’s day; it’s pretty much pressing right up against me and I feel...grrrrr.
Can I just be honest??? I really don't love mother’s day! I feel like the worst mom in the world for admitting (out loud) that my day, Mother’s Day, is one of my least favorite days of the year.
I loved honoring my mom as a kid. I felt so proud of all of my handmade (school-made) cards and crafts. But something changed inside of me after becoming a mom. I got CRAZY! I’m a total nut job...only when it comes to this “holiday”. I don’t think I’m quite as wacko about other occasions (at least I hope I'm not). Most of my reasons for detesting Mother’s Day are completely illogical. I can maybe pin a bit of my negativity to commercialism, and all the pressure to be adequately...no, SUPREMELY honored. It’s stressful! It sort of builds an irritating expectation of grandiosity. But my other reasons are 100% emotional and VERY shifty.
I’m up and I’m down. I can easily settle (Monday) on “alone time” for my Mother’s day plan only to find myself (Tuesday) in a complete kink over that plan, mourning my impending distance from my kids and husband. I get to judging myself for wanting to cut my family out of my one day, the day that they’re hoping to honor me on.
Of course the opposite is just as equally possible. Many a year, I’ve planned and agreed on a “family day” of actively bonding, (take note that I’ve solidly agreed to the whole deal), then found myself feeling strangled by regret and resentment...because EVERY SINGLE ONE of my days includes my kids. So I begin wondering why I didn’t just give myself the break I could have taken.
Each year I struggle with feeling like Mother’s day is that ONE day that should be capable of holding a year’s worth of personal time and fulfillment in it...OK, maybe not a full year’s worth, but close. So, I arrive at mother’s day with a whole heap of expectations. Many of which I haven’t a clue of until my day has come and gone. Then I feel a sort of sad longing for more. I don’t mean “more” in a purely materialistic sort of way, but “more” in an “I’m not sure that the day was all I hoped it would be”, sort of way. But either way, geez, it sounds so spoiled out loud. Ick!
Mother’s day was so much easier when all I needed to do was honor my mom...and that was it! I never got the sense that she felt crazy inside the way I do. Although, I have to say, I’m just crazier over all than she is. But I think this Mother’s day, what I’m coming to understand is this: my expectations drive my unhappiness.
I wish it weren’t so and I wish I could place all the blame for my ‘Mother’s day blues’ squarely in the lap of someone else, but I can’t. I’ve always believed that possessing some level of expectation is a healthy thing. I always thought that living with zero expectation places faith in nothing and equals trust in no one. It’s a confidence in the flaws of others as opposed to allowing oneself to believe that a person might be capable of fulfilling a desire. A person whose divorced themselves of expectations has always seemed to me to be a person who's too afraid to feel the pain of being let down by a loved one. Padding one’s heart with no expectations minimizes pain and loss but doesn't allow anyone close either.
Maybe there are healthy places for lowered expectations. Because here’s the deal: at the end of the day, on any ordinary day, I know my family appreciates me. Most of all, I know my husband appreciates me. I know they all love me. I know that my husband knows that he couldn’t do this wild ride without me, so screw you mother’s day, for messing with my mind! Come Sunday, my expectations will be officially lowered...hopefully.
Happy uncorrupted Mother's Day to all you fellow mamas!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.