Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Beach Phenomenon

Guess what? I recently found out that I don't hate the beach!

I found this out shortly after the last time we went there, which was on January 2nd. We live in such an amazing part of the world that my kids were in swimsuits and in the water (granted freezing cold water, but did they notice? No.) on the day after the new year turned over. That particular winter day, it was about 70 degrees and my relatives from Oklahoma were here visiting. My family took them to one of our most favorite spots on the earth: the beach below where The Montage resort sits in Laguna Beach. It is about 15 minutes from our house. The breathtaking panoramic views from the bluff above, where the hotel lies, are certainly the reason it pulls in $600/night for the cheapest room (or so I've heard). The incredible tide pools, dramatic rock formations, and regular dolphin and sea lion sightings make it near heavenly to me.

However, despite the beauty of this place, I normally cringe at the thought of beach day. For some reason, I didn't that day. I happily packed up the gear, toys, towels, and snacks. I joyfully watched my kids explore and splash. I loved every minute of it. And then recently, I realized, looking back, that something was not right about that much happiness. "Wait a second," I said to myself, "I thought I hated the beach." That's been my solid stance for a handful of years, but I accidentally enjoyed my whole day. What is up with that?

Well, I'll tell you. What was up is now what I call the Beach Phenomenon. What I really hated was the way my job got harder at the beach because of the circumstances created by the little people I was with! I didn't hate the beach; I hated the many consequences of being at the beach with two small children. I hated the sand in the hair, in every single package of food, on the blanket, in the car, in the swim diaper, etc. I hated the feeling of insecurity due to crowds of strangers and helpless toddlers. Then there's the senseless combination of mixing unpredictable tiny children who can't swim with an unpredictable large body of water and of course I hated bringing my little ones there! Way too much chaos. And I hate chaos.

But on January 2nd, I loved it, and I now realize it was because there were no little ones with me! They are bigger ones now, who can kind of swim, kind of reason in terms of what's dangerous, kind of listen, and kind of respond when I give the evil eye as they hover over the blanket with a sandy foot. What a revelation this was. And I have a sneaking suspicion the Beach Phenomenon has been occurring in other areas of my life. Where else have I just decided certain things are bad because they were so incredibly unpleasant with little babies? So I have to ask, What else can I un-hate? Perhaps camping? Road trips? The lines at Disneyland? Chuck E. Cheese (nope, sorry, I can't un-hate that one).

The bottom line is that here is one more way my growing children are opening my eyes. For those of you with babies still, maybe you can find comfort in my little light at the end of tunnel. And it is a poor analogy to say motherhood is the equivalent of a tunnel, because it's not. But you just don't realize how much enjoyment in your life has dissipated due to being a parent until you have the freedom to glance around and actually enjoy something. I'm looking for more things to un-hate. If you're in my shoes, let me know if you think of any. Ooh. Plane rides.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some gifts are sneakier than others

I'm watching the Olympics right now...some downhill skiing craziness. It's easy to observe those people and say, "Wow. That person has such a gift!" It's also come to my attention that since I've started this blog, some people read my words and say something similar. One friend said, "Writing like that must take so much time! It would take me forever to get my thoughts out like that." It doesn't, for me, by the way. It flows, most of the time. But notice the "like that" - two words that slide out so subtly, and reveal something quite important that happens inside each one of us. We all compare our gifts to those of others, which does more to remind us of our inadequacies than highlight our strengths. My friend who admired my gift of writing would not be the slightest bit ruffled by having a home full of hungry guests. On the other hand, I could pull off a mass-hosting event, but I'd hate it. Hospitality is just not my gift, but it's probably hers. Sometimes I wish (really hard) that I could have different gifts; but since I don't get to choose, I try to spend my energy responsibly using what I do have.

The trickiness, when talking about giftedness, lies in the fact that some gifts are just more obvious to the world than others. Olympians are glorified as exceptional in one thing. But I wonder if a person is truly gifted in, for instance, skiing, or is the gift more in his or her dedication to a skill? Millions of people have the physical capacity for the sports showcased in the Olympics. But only a handful of those people have the natural bent to relentlessly pursue that level of performance. What if another person has that same bent, but applies themselves to medical research or helping special needs children? These could be less obvious manifestations of the same gift. No one is ever going to get a gold metal for simply being a super dedicated person or for hospitality or for blogging. But I truly believe all gifts are created equal in that all gifts are essential in God's great symphony of life.

I wanted to blog about gifts because in my last post, I casually referred to my daughter as having the gift of mercy. After the fact, I realized I wanted to qualify further what this meant. I am absolutely certain that everyone has at least one gift - a purposeful, useful gift - which hints about why he or she is on this earth. I am also certain that those gifts want out of the boxes and molds and coffins into which we try to cram them. Comparison to others is totally inappropriate in this conversation because God created each person uniquely and for a reason. He gets to choose how we are special, and does not measure us one against another. Ever. God can look straight at you alone and take pride in His creativity and intentionality in making you. It is just a matter of knowing who He made you to be, and then living it out with abandon.

So what is it? What is your natural bent? What useful thing about you just comes naturally? (Insert here the Thomas the Train standard affirmation using your own name: "______ is a really useful engine!" Sorry, I can't stop thinking about that) Well, fortunately, some smart people realized that this question is hard for us to answer, and so they've formulated tests. Here is one that I really like.

There are a couple of passages in the Bible which list various spiritual gifts. This particular test is based on Romans 12:4-8 which says:

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

I took this gift test a couple years ago and it really opened my eyes to my own gifts. It also validated me in ways that have been misunderstood by others. Sometimes it is hard for people with different gifts to understand yours without knowing what they're looking for. It also continues to help me see the ways in which my kids are leaning. Just so you know, the translation above lists the gift of "showing kindness," which is mentioned in the test as the gift of mercy. Also, the verse above says "prophesy" whereas the test names this the gift of perceiving. Take the test. It is very interesting. If you've already taken it yourself, try to look at it through the eyes of your child. Maybe that socially unacceptable, annoying bossiness means they are gifted in leadership, or the thousand crayon drawings you've been given means they are going to be encouragers. You may see someone in a new way, perhaps even yourself.

The conversation on the chapter in your story about then claiming your giftedness, partnering with God to wield it in a powerful way in all the opportunities you have handed to you, owning your purpose with bravery and a sense of urgency...that is for another post.

My call to arms today

I once heard it said that anything worthwhile in life has to be fought for. A good marriage, a strong family, friendships, intimate relationships with your children, a good reputation at work - all these things are wrought with opposition. Don't you feel this? Nothing worth having comes easily. And lately, I feel this most poignantly in my parenting role. I need and desire to fight what feels like an uphill battle, and the battle is demanding. But at the same time, it is a fight I look forward to, and one I face securely, because I know God equips me to do whatever job He gives me. I don't feel a call to press on in my job as a mother because it is necessarily so difficult, though it is a lot of the time. Rather, I feel compelled to take up my weapons, so to speak, because of the constantly growing realization that my job is so incredibly important. Parenting requires much more of me than I ever could have imagined.

But here's the deal; I have always known that the job of being a mother is incredibly important. What's challenging is that the specific ways in which I need to understand and apply that truth keep changing. What I have understood, planned, and executed in the raising of a three-year old boy remains about as relevant as the latest piece of computer software, which is to say it is valid for only a handful of months. Sometimes much less, like when they're tiny. Isn't it just maddening to feel like you are always fighting to stay on top of who you are, who they are, and learning how in the heck you can all thrive together?

When I had baby number one, I quickly learned that motherhood required more of my energy and physical body than I could have ever imagined. Not too long ago, I was at my wits end trying to come up with a wide variety of foods that could be neatly cubed. "How many things at Trader Joes are already kind of bite-sized?" was a question that provided keys to my success. In the same period of time, I would catch myself calculating how many times I'd wiped down the high-chair (Oh my gosh, four times a day times 365 days, that's over 1400 times a year!). And now, my mastery of such chores no longer matters. Now that they are getting older and less dependent on me physically (who knew a 7 year old could happily assemble breakfast for herself at 6:30 on a Saturday morning while I slept in?), the requirements are totally different. Here is yet another opportunity to put things in perspective: whatever season you are in, whether good or bad, it will soon pass. I'm starting to get it, after nearly 8 years of being a mom. That dreaded feeling of "This is the way it will be forever!" is just an illusion. I'm ceasing to be surprised at the way each season morphs into a new one, and that I am required to morph with it.

Today I am seeing a new season approach, and I am leaning into it. It is shaping up to be about knowing my kids and seeing who they were created to be in the larger scheme of things. For instance, I am realizing that my daughter most likely has the gift of mercy. Though she is still a child and far from perfect, she also has an unusual capacity for compassion, particularly for the needy. What a revelation to realize in a new way how she is a person, a unique creation in her own right! For her, helping the less fortunate is a question of how she can, not if she wants to. Mercy is not my gift, so I know God is showing this fact to me, pointing at it, asking me to water what He's planted. Me. I can't depend on the public school system, the church, or anyone else to really see my child. I am her mom, and that makes me the most powerful influence in my children's lives. It is so critical that I fight for her, shrewdly and consistently, with the weapons of love, truth and grace.

My new season is not only about nurturing my children's strengths, but also having the wisdom to limit much of the white noise in our lives that does not apply. For instance, before I had kids, I decided they would each be required to play a classical instrument, at least for a while. I realize now that that notion is great in concept, and ridiculous in practice! Yes, I'd love for my daughter to learn to play piano at some point. But God help me that I never put my agenda above His; my children are His first, anyway. Letting go of my somewhat arbitrary, self-imposed standards on non-moral issues is one big battlefield for me.

As with all seasons of my mothering, God is fully providing what I need, showing me where I'm coming up short, giving me new tools and ideas, and most importantly giving me His eyes for my children. I now recognize when a new season is starting; I experience a familiar peeling back of a blind spot, a view of one of my children in a new light. "Wow. That's what you're doing, Lord. I had no idea." It's actually beautiful, the way He grows a person (kids and self included), and that is why I can lean into Him and lean into the change. He is such a gentle and loving Father. It makes the fight so much easier, and so much more exciting, knowing He's on my side.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A little perspective for the day

I can glance around my home right now and feel like there is so much to do, I don't know where to start. I can glance at my calendar and feel overwhelmed. I can glance outside and see the weeds that need pulling and the car that needs washing. I can fully recognize a whole cloud of problems and loose ends in my life right now. And, I can also remember that this life is short. My troubles are momentary (more on momentary troubles later, which was the topic of the eulogy I gave at my grandma's funeral a few weeks ago). If you've felt overwhelmed today, here is some required viewing, one of my favorite songs right now called "I Will Rise." It's so super good. It's like a vitamin for my soul, giving me the boost I need to pursue the ordinary - the laundry, the homework, the weeds - with joy.

I think I can

One group of people who inspire me is the band Jars of Clay. Yes, the Christian band from the 90's, and yes, I love them unashamedly. Actually I didn't love them for many years (perhaps because my car stereo was continually pumping out either the latest Veggie Tales tunes or the soundtrack of High School Musical). But now that I have commandeered some control over my listening pleasures (read: the kids are at school for a couple hours), I have renewed my love for Jars. For one, their most recent album was musically the best one yet. But much of this love is because they are intentional with a capital "I" and I just can't resist people like that. They took a trip to Africa, and after witnessing the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic over there, decided they were required to act on their new knowledge of that situation. They know that if any group of people is jumping in line to help the needy of this world, it absolutely should be the church. So they founded a non-profit called Blood:Water Mission (see link on the right under "These People Inspire Me"). As clean water equals clean blood, which leads to a drastic reduction in exposure to life threatening disease, the organization set a goal to install 1000 new water wells in 1000 communities in Africa, and are quickly nearing that goal.

I don't have a lot of space in my life for humanitarian efforts, but here is one small way I can give, and so can you. One campaign they are doing right now to raise funds is called 40 Days of Water. It's very simple: drink only water for the 40 days between now until Easter, and then donate the money you saved from not hitting Starbucks every 30 minutes to Blood:Water Mission. Whether it's Jamba Juice or wine at a restaurant, sacrifice, keep track of the savings, and give someone in Africa something we take for granted. They say $1 of American money buys fresh water for 1 African for 1 year. Talk about getting a lot of bang for your buck. Let's do it. I am, and you know how much I love iced tea. Really really a lot. So long, my Venti unsweetened with extra ice friend. Meet me at Easter.

*notice the 40 Days of Water "beverage fast" corresponds with Lent. I learned that Sundays are not included in the count of days for Lent, based on tradition. So that means you technically get 6 days off.

Check it out here,

Monday, February 15, 2010

There's that word "abundant" again

John 10:10
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - Jesus

I think about this verse a lot, mostly because life usually does not feel abundant. It feels more like I'm simply surviving. And I don't mean "abundant" in a financial sense. The New Living Translation of the Bible subs in the phrase "rich and satisfying." How often does your life feel rich and satisfying? I'd bet the occasions are the exception and not the rule. But look what the verse says: for us to have abundant lives is the reason Jesus came! And in reality, most of us just try to make it from one day to the next. When I get into survival mode, God always reminds me about this verse, and I know immediately that something is not right. This is not all God has for me.

That word "abundant" is used a LOT in the New Testament. It is used to describe many aspects of our lives and the things we have if we are in a relationship with Jesus (search the word for yourself at one of my fav resources And many times I do feel like I'm thriving...when I am patient with my child on a really hard day....when I share something personal with a friend, knowing it may help them....when I can quickly regain peace after a mini-disaster (like last week when I knocked over an open bottle of vegetable oil and heard it glug-glug out onto the kitchen floor several times before I could upright it. Oil doesn't really wipe up, by the way. It just moves around.) So yes, I know I've experienced abundant life at times, but I still want more. We're promised more.

Something I read tonight gave me a hint about what hinders our living abundant lives. We want to feel safe, and living safe lives produces shallow faith. This book I was reading continued to state the problem, that "...Jesus isn't safe, but He is always good. On the inside of His goodness, He offers a safe haven for a dangerous life to be lived out." It is so my human nature to say (with sarcasm), "Yes please! Sign me up for that dangerous life!" And miss the whole point. I know that dangerous with Jesus is like walking a tightrope with a net right below you; it just feels dangerous. The bottom line is that taking risks with Him is the only way to an abundant life.

Risk with Jesus always involves giving something - your time, your talent, your heart - that He will leverage for someone else's (or your own) benefit. One risky thing I choose to do is write. And the fact that this blog could potentially be read by more people than I've ever written for in the past makes it feel dangerous for me - really dangerous, if I let myself think about it. Criticism, rejection, and apathy are all realistic possibilities. But I want "rich and satisfying" to describe my days; I want the abundant life, not just survival. In God's economy, giving that small thing you have to give is somehow multiplied into more than enough "rich and satisfying" to fill one's heart.

Also super risky are marriage and parenting, if you are truly engaged in those relationships. Withdrawal, excuses, preoccupation, and avoidance all ring of self-protection. If I am walking in the knowledge that God protects me, that He is my ultimate advocate and that I am defined more by Him than by others, I have no need to hide in my relationships. There is a freedom in this perspective, and one really can't approach abundant living without seizing freedom along the way.

Some other tightropes I'm trying to walk right now:

* continuing to offer grace and love to my husband when I feel hurt and misunderstood

* inviting my friends to church

* signing up to spend a week of my summer leading a group of 2nd graders at Vacation Bible School

* being a more gracious parent

I really have no desire to skydive, manage an aggressive portfolio in the stock market, or put my chips on the table in Vegas, which are all fine things. But for me, this dangerous living of the heart is thrilling enough.

Friday, February 12, 2010

No ordinary love

I have a lot of different kinds of love inside of me. It's a shame that there is only one word in our language to describe them all. Saying I love my husband, or my dog, or summertime, or God all mean drastically different things. Some loves are fully centered around feelings or desires, and others are a lot more work. The love I feel as a mother for my kids is often gut-wrenching and so bittersweet that it brings me to tears on a regular basis. Some loves fill you up. Some empty you out in a way you didn't think possible. Sometimes my love is loyal, sometimes needy. Sometimes it is wise, and sometimes it is missing altogether, having been totally dissolved by frustration.

Shocking, unexpected love is the kind God likes best, I think. That's the kind that sent a newborn baby instead of a flashy king to save us. And that's the kind that gives me an answer when I ask, "Where am I?" and "Who am I right now?" Usually, it's, "Right where I want you to be," and "You are my beautiful daughter." It is shocking that God knows my name, knows my every thought before I think it, and still loves me so much that He shows up! He comes through, He counsels me, He protects me - and never in the way that I expect. That is what I want to do for my loved ones. I want to love them with a love that grabs them by the shoulders and shouts, "You are such a big deal!" And I want you to experience that too; you are a big deal to the God of the universe, and He'll prove it to you. If you don't already, you should expect the unexpected.

Tube of toothpaste

Earlier, I walked into my daughter's bathroom and noticed her tube of toothpaste lying on the floor. I didn't pick it up. I stared at it, most likely because I'm tired and I am well past my daily limit of the number of things I can pick up off the floor. But in that moment of hesitation, I felt that still, small, non-audible voice of the Lord - which is more like words being expressed inside of me that aren't mine but that I register - say, "My words and my presence are as real as that tube of toothpaste." I sort of glanced around...."Really?" I silently replied. I stared at the cap, the creases, the wear on the back of the white tube. Why is it so hard to just believe without any doubt seeping in? I know better than to doubt the Lord and His voice and His work in my life, and I don't. But I am still flesh and blood, broken and bruised from this world and from my own humanity. He gets that. He understands, and that is precisely why He shows up, just to remind me that He is here, now, and isn't going anywhere. Thank you thank you thank you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just start already!

This is what I have to yell to myself. Starting a blog feels like opening a book to the middle and telling you the story from there. And somehow that is part of the reason I have not been able to commit to one thus far. However, life would have it that I am out of writing venues. For the first time in many years, I have no one for whom to write, at least not officially. This coupled with two things has led me to start a blog: one, the clear, compelling reality that I need to write; and two, that a couple of friends who know my strengths best - often better than I know them - encouraged me to. Truthfully, this encouragement has only boiled down what I already know, in my spirit, in my heart of hearts. God is at work in and around my life and I am a witness. If I am anything at all, this is who I am. Witnesses testify and give evidence for what they believe to be true. The Bible describes us as witnesses, many times exhorting us to tell what we've seen and heard, even "to the ends of the earth". Good thing I love words.