Through the Looking Glasses…

I started wearing reading glasses when I turned 40. Almost overnight, my eyes changed, and written words looked fuzzy and unclear. I didn’t want to admit that my vision was getting weaker, but life became limited pretty quickly — so the glasses went on. And when I can keep track of where those glasses are, seeing words is no longer a problem.

reading-glasses

Unfortunately, glasses don’t work for everything. I still need clarity in so many areas, and vision is only one of them. Sometimes I don’t want to admit that my perspective is changing, that life seems fuzzy and unclear. Because then I have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I’m not in control anymore…that I’ve even been wrong about some things, that I’ve had blind spots, and that the life I had envisioned as clear and easy, may not be.  And you know what four letter word that brings up?  FEAR. And it can be blinding.

Those parts of life that are familiar – friends, relationships, church, work, committees – are so often life-giving and meaningful, purposeful, safe. They often define us and give us vision, and those are good things.

But those are also the areas in which we often become way too entrenched, and then we are too close to the setting to see a bigger and more complete picture. Focus gets fuzzy and the lights begin to dim a bit. If we don’t know when to step back for a different view, we can almost become crippled. And in the middle of realizing that maybe we need to move, to change perspective, is fear. We don’t want to make changes because we’re afraid of what life will be like if we move, so we stay in the ‘safe’ world of what we know.  And in the midst of all that activity, we begin to project what we perceive as the best or most important, on those we love.

When my children were growing up, we taught them what is Right and True and Good. We got caught up in the 12-step-plan, the do-all-the-right-parental-things-and-your-children-will-turn-out-like-you-want-them-to handbook. We made sure they were doing ‘all the right things’, being part of all the right groups and activities. But somewhere along the way we picked up the wrong glasses, and our perception changed – and so did our expectations; we wanted them to look like us instead of the unique people God made them.

I needed a different set of glasses. Maybe my quest to find fulfillment in the doing and the ‘perfect parenting’ was caught up in striving more than in stillness, and I put my children in the same place. “Be still and know that I AM GOD.” “Trust Me.” I wasn’t being still, and I wasn’t seeing what God wanted me to see. I let fear into my sights. I needed to step back.

And this is when my vision started to fade. I needed to get being still into focus.

If all the activity of life and parenting, which we often think defines and validates us, keeps us from seeing that it’s time to be still and trust, then what we do is as a loud noise — because Love and knowing the God of Love is the most important — above all else. When we can’t slow down enough to put that Love into perspective,  it is easy to lose our vision and we focus on all the wrong things.

But some days I think that maybe it’s coming back, just a little. I think I see a little more light and have a little more clarity. I see that the doing, all the striving, is changing to listening and laughing and enjoying and walking alongside. And being still.

Our service and activity and doing doesn’t validate us. We aren’t defined by our outward work or how we think things should look on the outside. We’re defined by who God is making us, and that looks different for each of us. And if how we look on the outside isn’t kind and caring and loving, then does it matter?

I think I’m beginning to see some things I couldn’t see before. My glasses may not always be where I need them, but I’m sure glad I have them. And I’m thankful to God for His vision ~ because His perspective is what truly counts.

 

This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Epiphany

epiphany – a divine manifestation; a moment of sudden understanding or revelation.

I had an epiphany the other day. I’m sure that many, many others have already experienced the revelation I had – but it gave me a perspective that I didn’t even realize I was missing.

In the story of the Prodigal son, the younger son is usually the one who gets all the attention. Whenever someone teaches about it, he’s the one who went astray and then came home. The older brother is known for his crummy attitude, and the father is known for his love. His Love. That is where my epiphany starts.

The father’s love is obvious throughout the story. He gives his son freedom, which helps him learn and grow up – however hard on everyone involved. And when he returns, the father runs to him with open arms, overjoyed that he is alive and back home. Most parents can relate to some of this kind of love – if not the letting go, at least the open arms. But as a parent of a child who has chosen badly and sought her freedom in dangerous places, the love I have for her is, in some ways, harder than the love I have for my children who have walked the straight and narrow.

Harder? What does that mean? Well, for one, it’s harder for me to feel love for her sometimes. I know, love isn’t a feeling. But it’s kind of scary when your feelings sometimes go the other way from where they’re supposed to go. I actually have to choose the loving actions, words, body language. The easy kids are easy to love. And I’m thankful for my “easy” ones; and for all the parents out there who have easy children, you are truly blessed.

But even greater than that committed-no-matter-what kind of love, is the privilege of understanding, even if only a fraction, the kind of Grace-love the Father has for His children. The kind of love that transcends any feeling, positive or negative, I could have at any given moment. The kind of prodigal-son love that, after all the emotions that go along with parenting a child who strays – the anger, sadness, fear, grief – keeps my arms open even after all the hurt and alienation and frustration. If I weren’t the parent of a child who chose her own way, I’d never know the kind of love that truly comes from Grace.

Thank you God, for showing me the kind of love you have for me. And thank you that it has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with a God of Grace, waiting with open arms.

A true testimony

I love my teenagers…and their friends. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, and I hope that maybe I’ve taught them a thing or two. One thing I’ve heard more than once from some of them goes something like this – “I’ve just followed the rules all my life, and if I don’t experience things for myself, I’ll never learn, and I won’t be able to help others.” They equate “experiencing life” with having a dramatic testimony, the I-did-drugs-and-now-I-don’t or I-once-had-an-eating-disorder-and-I’ve-been-healed kind of testimony; and they seem to think they need that kind of testimony in order to be effective. And while it’s true that anything in life we experience can be used by God to help others in similar situations, I feel as if there’s an even more dramatic testimony, one that is harder than any other.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He didn’t fall to any of the temptations the enemy tried to hand Him. Nope, not one — He walked away, following the perfect will of the Father. He knew who He was and WHOSE He was, so His ability to walk away showed a depth of relationship and strength of character that anyone would envy. And He had the ammunition He needed for protection…God’s Word. He walked that line unwavering, the line that we as sinful humans just don’t want to follow. We’d rather tell people about how we drifted from it and then recovered our step, thanks to God’s work in our lives.

But how many of us would ooh and aah over someone who actually walked in obedience and didn’t waver? I would, for one. Not that anyone would always stay on track at all times – most of us have chosen badly, paid hard consequences (some harder than others), eventually recovered, and lived to tell about it. And all that is part of life. But the most “dramatic” of all – the one that demonstrates depth and strength and true overcoming – is the one that follows Jesus; the one that stays strong during temptations; the one that walks that straight line; the one who may not have any spectacular worldly events to tell. The one who knows who he is and WHOSE he is, and lives to tell about it…THAT is the true testimony.

It’s just not that simple…

I have a friend who is also a minister and founder of a ministry to war torn countries in Africa. I heard him speak last week with his very thick French accent, but perfect English, and his message was so powerful – full of grace, boldness, power, and gentleness. Yes, all those things together. He spoke of loss…of loved ones, of life, of freedom. He himself lost many family members to the genocide in Rwanda. He had to sweep his family away to safety. He’s been in prison, tortured, beaten, threatened. But his joy is so full and contagious. His life is one that I would not even begin to truly understand…going to a depth that I can only imagine. Nothing simple about his life, nothing simple about his journey. But if you asked him why he has so much joy and contentment in his life, he’d say it is very simple – that his life is full and complete, lacking in nothing, because God has directed him all the way, and he has laid everything at His feet.

My daughter is going through a pretty tough time, and she gets angry when anyone tries to “help” her work her way through it. No one understands, she says, everyone thinks it’s all so simple. No one is going through the same thing. It’s all too complicated, it’s not as simple as everyone says it is.

Well, she’s right. But she’s also only half right. Because there is another side to the coin. One side is very complicated and detailed, and unless you’ve walked in her shoes, don’t try to help her. But the other side is very simple and easy. There is a way out of all the complicated mess. And we all have the opportunity to walk in that direction. When my friend from Africa says he’s found the peace that passes all understanding, it’s because he has received it in the midst of all the complicated messes of life, through Jesus Christ. He in no way minimizes the struggles of others…his whole life is dedicated to helping them. But he has that simple peace of heart and mind that only God can give. He’s lived the hell of hardships, and he chooses to walk hand in hand with Jesus. He probably has to begin that simple walk daily, starting fresh every single day as he wakes up to the harsh reality of a complicated life. But somehow, he does it. Oh, that I can walk in the same direction…that my sweet daughter can do the same.

I heard someone say recently that obedience is God’s love language…”if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” No, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we may think we won’t survive. But God can truly give us a resting place in the midst of it. It’s just that simple.

Heavy sigh…

I love my children, even when they don’t see very far beyond their noses. And it seems that for the past several years, that distance hasn’t changed much. I know God sees the big picture in their lives, and I’m thankful. I’m also thankful that He is the Holy Spirit to them…as much as I want to see them take the right path, the better road, I cannot make it happen. I’ve learned more about how little control I really have, in their lives and my own.

But no matter how much I know I can’t do, I still have the desire to see them make good and wise choices. Easier said than done. Heck, I still make foolish choices, so I certainly can’t expect them to be all wise and knowing. My prayer right now is that they can reach into their hearts and pull out what they know is strong and good, and then, with humility, lay it down before the Lord. They have the foundation…so I need to bank on the promise that they have been trained up in the way they should go and that they will return to it. One day…

We all need to be free of self, and only the Truth will set us free — not our “understanding of who we are.” I know it’s hard to face that truth, especially when we see the parts of self we really don’t like. When we read something or hear something we don’t like, we don’t want to listen, and I think it’s usually because we don’t want to face those areas of ourselves where we really need to change and grow. Who likes someone else telling us that we need to change? When faced with the truth, we’d rather run the other way…it seems easier. But in the long run, not only is it not easier, we’re missing out on great blessing and growth which helps make us stronger and better people.

And our motivation needs to be love…love of God and others. As we grow, as my children grow, I pray that we will be motivated by love and service to those around us. Then we will truly understand “who we are.”

Parenting

I was thinking today about how much “easier” my 10 year old seems to be than some of my other 4 children. Well, most of them. Of my 5 children, my son is a delight, and easy compared to his dramatic sisters. But my 10 year old daughter (I realize the hormones haven’t kicked in yet) is also in the easy category. At least that’s how it seems. Reality check: I think it has more to do with me and my parenting her than it does with how different she might be.

All of my kids are great and have wonderful strengths, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I’d be lying if I said I enjoy them all the time, because there have been times when they’ve been downright hard to like.  And there have been times when I wanted so badly to retire from motherhood. There have been fearful times, angry times, embarrassing times, disappointing times — but when I look at the bigger picture, all of those times are what make up the depth of our relationships. My hope is that we’ll all look back sooner than later and see that we’ve come a long way and that we really do have a loving family.

Back to my 10 year old. She’s just a great kid. I know I’m not as hung up in making sure I do everything right, that she does everything right, that she come out as “good” as our neighbor’s kid, that she always gives the right Sunday school answer. I’m just glad she’s part of our family. I think learning to relax as a parent has been a good thing for me, but especially for her. Not that we disregard discipline, rules, etc. But there just isn’t the underlying expectation on myself or on her to be the perfect mother and perfect daughter. That alone is probably the best thing for both of us.

Maybe I’ll be updating this blog in a few years once those hormones have taken over. We’ll see. But for now, I’m just enjoying the gift God has given me with her and am so very thankful for the time we’ve had. I just pray I can be a blessing to her as she is to me…