Friday, March 31, 2006

What am I worth, anyway??

Reading Sarah's blog on a possible job change (resignation) took me back about fifteen years... to my own struggle as a wife and mom, with a baby less than a year old, family who all lived out-of-state, and trying to handle a my calling and ministry... and feeling like a complete failure because I could not do and be all that I dreamed of.

Part of the problem WAS me. I was idealistic. I was too confrontational for a senior pastor who was a schemer/dreamer and not good at bringing things from ideas and concepts to reality and procedures. I was not mature enough to handle some of the issues I faced (artistically, theologically and personally). We had some financial pressures - new home, lower paying jobs (and thought we needed my income). We had a delightful baby girl, whom I had to put in daycare for the days I worked once she was about 9 months old. That about killed me. Oh, add on top of that some post-partum depression... Yikes!

It was also a stressful, high performance job, with lots of pressure (internal and external). I persevered, thinking I just had to try to do a better job, work harder, walk on the water... (not!) I had nightmares of how I could mess things up. It. Was. Hard.

After 14 months, I had to stop trying. I did NOT have the full support of my senior pastor, in fact, there was a string of criticisms from him each week. (At least Sarah doesn't have THAT to deal with...) I believe he meant this critique to be constructive (do this, try this, NO, do it this way!) It ended up being destructive because I did not know what he wanted, other than "not" what I just tried. I didn't trust my boss or the people who worked for me. There was back-biting and jealousy on all sides. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and consumed by a lack of confidence in myself. It was crash and burn time! To save my faith, my marriage, my family, and my sanity, I resigned.

About the same time, Ken brought home a book from the 'free' shelf where he worked. The Road to Daybreak, written by Henri Nouwen, describes his journey of the heart and soul from Harvard Divinity School to working with the people at L'Arche. In a much smaller way, I went through the transformation of identity and self-worth that Nouwen did. Reading his journal account, I cried, doubted and worried my way to peace and joy. Note that I didn't do it gracefully, or with fabulous introspection and perfect application! (And it took me longer than a year...)

In the transition time, I had to come to grips with a couple of things... First, my baby would not be a baby forever. In the season of toddlers and preschoolers and elementary school, I needed to be more present in her life (and her future sister). The more divided I was in mind and purpose, the harder it was for me to do anything well. I also had to stop and learn more about myself: who I was, what my gifts were, and how my desire to serve God fit with the other priorities in my life. I had to stop trying to do it all and just try to do some! Finally, I had to grow up a little, take ownership of my mistakes and failings, and move on.

Fast-forward fifteen years... I'm back into the pull of wanting to do vocational ministry again. I'm scared to death I'll crash and burn again. And yet.. this time it seems to be different.

I'm a mom, but that doesn't define me. I'm a wife, but (while I do love him!) that's not the center of my life. I am a dependable volunteer in many different arenas, but it doesn't make me valuable or valued, (though I do feel appreciated!) I don't HAVE to do ministry to be validated, much as I love it. I don't even have to sing, write, or actually, to do ANYTHING to feel of worth in God's eyes. I don't have to be right, skinny or hip. I just am. Occasionally stupid, sometimes misguided and frequently pulled back to the cross of grace. That's the place where I find my worth - as a daughter of the King of kings, co-heirs with Christ... all those positional titles that I didn't earn, but was given. There is no God within, just the Lord I serve.

I keep having to remind myself of this. It's not my performance. It's His mercy and grace. It's not how well I parent, clean house or cook. It's showing His unending kindness and compassion. While I desire to give God my best, His love for me is not contingent upon a mistake-free performance. It's His working in me and (despite me) through me.

So I'm back here at the cross of grace... and peace... and hope... and remembering... with a heart full for my sister...

From our home to yours...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Things moms learn...

I have the most WONDERFUL small group that I'm blessed (TOTALLY BLESSED!) to lead this year. They are all 'new' moms - moms with babies under 8 months old. They come tired, sometimes sleep-deprived, sometimes their lesson is done, and sometimes it isn't. But they come, babies in arms, to pray and study together. And I have learned so much from them!!

Recently we started talking about books and other things that we have learned from in the process of mothering. I was slightly in a pickle. CBS (Community Bible Study) doesn't like its leaders to endorse anything but the 'official' reading list that is offered at the end of the year. I could let them talk, but couldn't say too much on my personal views.

However, there are a lot of BAD, JUNKY Christian parenting books out there. REALLY, REALLY BAD books. And they have holy titles and sound so... spiritual. I can't really express this to these wonderful women. So instead, I'm going to post here on the stuff I can't talk about... And they might drop in and read this [wink wink] So...

Here's some links that I think help give some perspective on infant sleeping, mothering, and growing kids... (Actually, there are SO MANY more good ones, but I'll just start with these...)

There's tons being written right now. I tried to pick the ones that I think have good information, without being crazy and locked into either end of the parenting spectrum (i.e. authoritarian, punitive parenting or loosey-goosey, touchy-feely parenting.)
  • Familes Where Grace is the Place by Jeff VanVonderen
  • Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears (Actually, just about anything he and his wife write has good stuff in it.)
  • Kids are Worth it and
  • Through the Rough Times, both by Barbara Coloroso
  • Grace-Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel
  • Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World by Zig Ziglar
  • 25 Things Every New Mother Should Know by Martha Sears
  • Pick Up Your Socks...and Other Skills Growing Children Need! by Elizabeth Crary and Pati Casebolt
A wise person I know said that you weren't "done" parenting until you have met your great-grandchildren. In other words, you can't show that you have done a good job parenting until you see how your children taught their children to parent. The older my kids get, the more I realize that I have made mistakes as a mom, and what great parents God gave me! And I also realize that while there are many GOOD ways to parent, there are also many, MANY "bad" ways...

From our home to yours...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

When God says "No"

I don't like it when God says "no". Why does He do that???

I pray and I expect a certain answer, and then discover that God won't answer it my way. So here's what I'm learning, still very much a student in this 'following Jesus' school.

God Says NO when...

...when it is not His plan (for instance, when Adam didn't have a wife...)
"how about the camel, Lord?"
"OK, there's a ... oh, never mind... hey - what's THAT?"
"Her name is Eve."
"OHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... nice!"

...when it is for our best (like Adam and Eve in the Garden...)
"Can we eat from all of the trees?"
"Can we touch it?"
"Why??? ....oops..."

...when it is not His timing (no children)
"Lord, we took care of it. Abram is going to sleep with Hagar..."
"No.... that's a BAD idea!"
"It is? We think it will work fine! ....oh..."

...when it seems hard to believe it can happen (Sarai's pregnancy)
"I am too old to have kids"
"No you're not!"

...when we don't understand what God has asked us to do
"OK, Isaac, get up on the altar"
"No, I have provided the sacrifice"

(And that's just starting the list from the book of Genesis!!!)

For happy and sad reasons, God has said "no" to me many times. I went through a broken engagement 21 years ago. It was a marriage that God said "no" to. At the time, I said, "but WHY???" Now I can say "YES! THANK YOU!" -- but only in hindsight. At the time, it hurt. A lot.

I'd like to say that I've always been able to see when God answers my prayers with a "no". I don't. In fact, most of the time, I still try to argue Him into my preferred answer. I'm catching on a little faster each time. I still don't like it when He says "no". Instead of "WHY???" I try to say, "OK - I don't get it. Show me why when I am ready to understand."

He has NEVER said "NO" to that prayer!!

From our home to yours...


Monday, March 20, 2006

Fasting and Feasting

This is among the best devotional readings I've found on the web. The credit is given to Sr. Mary Jo Zacher from the March 1996 issue of The Searcher newsletter.

Fast from judging others
Fast from bitterness

Feast on Christ dwelling in them
Feast on forgiveness

Fast from words that pollute
Fast from self-concern

Feast on phrases that purify
Feast on compassion for others

Fast from pessimism
Fast from anger

Feast on optimism
Feast on patience

Fast from complaining
Fast from discouragement

Feast on appreciation
Feast on hope

Fast from idle gossip
Fast from worry

Feast on purposeful hope
Feast on prayer

From our home to yours,

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Things moms know...

There is a certain body of information that only moms know... (If you don't have kids yet, you might want to skip this post!)

  • the best way to get crayon off of just about anything except the seat of your mom's car
  • how far catsup can splatter
  • the fastest way to clean and dry clothes on a car ride (hint: roll down the window!)
  • the average 9 month old kitten can wear American Girl doll clothes
  • the average 6 year old has four scratches on each arm after dressing 9 month old kittens in American Girl doll clothes
  • five-year-olds can name the genus and species of gazillions of dinosaurs, but not remember to pick up their dirty clothes
  • poop happens - in more colors than you knew it could
  • and (while we are on the gross ones) the same can be said for puke (sorry - I warned you...)
  • why you don't buy 8 year old boys their own can of soda (think shaking and fizzing contests...)
  • a pair of socks going into the wash means that you have a 50/50 chance of getting a pair back when the laundry is done
  • it takes longer to fix a meal than it does for your family to eat it
  • a Happy Meal doesn't make kids act that way
  • car washes are a BAD place for the electric window on your car to fail
  • the likelihood of getting spaghetti sauce on your new white blouse is 100%
  • the best bathroom at the mall is NOT in the food court
  • who in the family is the likeliest suspect when all of the mint Girl Scout cookies are gone
  • your baby will burp (loudly) in church during a moment of 'silent reflection'... and everyone will think it is YOU!
  • and... if everyone in the house is sick with the flu, and someone knocks on the door, the only one who will be able to stagger to the door is.... MOM!
No grand spiritual insight here, just laughter and the joy of the Lord...

from our home to yours,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gun hormones

A friend recently wondered out loud if there is such a thing as a "gun hormone". (It's caused by the the "Y" chromosome, of course...) We talked about how little boys can make anything into a gun -- a waffle, a stick, a bunch of Legos, and little girls seem to not particularly care about guns at all. Little boys love playing war, and little girls love playing house.

(Yes, I know these are generalities! Bear with me...)

We watched this amazing little boy- vs. little girl difference first-hand with our older daughter. She LOVED dinosaurs. We would buy them for her at the dollar store and she ended up with quite a collection after a while. She played with them in families and gave them names. Boys would come over, drag out the dinosaur box and have meat-eater vs plant-eater wars. She was horrified. I didn't teach her to play 'house' with dinosaurs... she just did it!!!

Over the years, I've come to believe that the most important thing is to teach kids, particularly urban and suburban ones, that guns are 'tools' to be used according to rules. They are not toys, and if they are used incorrectly, there are consequences.

Kids in the rural areas seem to 'get this'. Or kids whose parents hunt and have weapons for that purpose. What bothers me (and I suspect many of us) is that guns, particularly handguns, get equated with a coolness factor. There is no consequence if someone is shot 'dead'. If they are treated like 'tools' then they are not focused on much for entertainment, other than the usual boy fascination with them... You can let them mock-play with guns, and continue to talk about how they are 'tools'. And not over react.

It was interesting watching pacifist friends who were quite vocal about giving 'non-violent toys' as presents, and then watch their kids fight over who got a box as a car or whatever... Just too funny and sad at the same time. Call it sin nature, or whatever you want, we are bent on exercising dominion over each other... and always wanting to be best and first and coolest.

I'm glad Jesus understands this weakness...

From our home to yours...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Baby Clothes

For some reason, I kept a whole box of baby clothes. They were carefully folded and packed for the move to our present home. Written on the top of the lids was this: 'packed Mar96 size 0-9 mo' -- TEN YEARS AGO!!!??

What was I thinking? To make it even more amusing, this box has been moved from place to place in our home. From a bedroom, to a closet, to another room, to the basement...

These are not the cutesy, hand-knit sweaters or blankie keepsakes, either, but your basic stretchy suits and pajamas, socks (SOCKS???) and a few dresses. They look pretty good - not new, but not worn out either. Some little pumpkin will be well-dressed!

It's only NOW -- when it is really in the way and the room is going to be remodeled, that I finally was willing to get rid of this stuff. Someone, somewhere, will have great clothes for their baby. And I handed them over without guilt. (OK, maybe a twang of sentimentality... I AM a Mom, after all!)

It took a moment of clear-thinking to let these things go out the door. No excuse of sentimentality justifies it. It was just being lazy with maybe some goofy hormones thrown in...

So what made the difference? Why can I get rid of them now?

Partly it's necessity, and part of it is perspective. I don't anticipate having another baby at this point, nor do I expect grandchildren around the corner. (Lord, are we in agreement on this?) I don't really have room for a box of clothes that aren't needed in the near future. And, there are people around me who NEED clothes for their children. I'm hoarding. I'm being selfish. So, out the door they go! I can serve someone, even though I'll never know who they are, with a box of clothes I was hoarding... Serve by giving away with joy.

Jesus said that if one wanted to be great, that person should be "servant of all". [Mark 9]

Yes, it's only a box of clothes. But it's the attitude of my heart that God is speaking to... to be more open hearted... more open handed... YES - to SERVE! Just imagine what He can do if I'll stop hoarding what I have...


from our home to yours -