Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

When my children were young, as routine as saying my nightly prayers before bedtime, I would recount all the mistakes I had made with them that day.  Some failings felt so significant that I would measure them in how many extra years of therapy they would require.  While most people worry about saving for retirement, I worried about saving for my children’s counseling copays when they were grown and their mama-messed-me-up issues would manifest like a scary clown face popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.

Motherhood was hard and it seemed like the harder I tried, the more aware I became of the spaghetti sauce dripping from the kitchen ceiling.  (Truthfully that scarlet drip would have been there regardless of my children because whenever I am in the kitchen catastrophic events occur.)

Now, a mother of teenage boys, I look back on those years and the litany of suffering I subjected myself to and I realize how little I knew God.  I couldn’t show myself any mercy because I had yet to know his.  God was this perfect being who couldn’t possibly understand the trials of being an imperfect parent.  He had never wrestled anyone with an arched back into a car seat or saw the need to abandon the baby’s stroller in the parking lot after realizing it was more likely that he would collapse from frustration than the too-complicated-to-fold buggy.  Of course, Jesus did wrestle demons and I am sure collapsing was a possibility when he endured 40 days without food or water in the desert.  Still, in those early days of motherhood, I relied more on parenting books than our perfect father. Read more

College Applications and Love Redeemed

It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school.  The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions.  Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college.  For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda.  We’ve made our list.  We’ve pared down our list.  We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day.  At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.

It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating.  There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope.  It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives.  Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write.  It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways.  Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto.  Yet I know I can’t keep him.  He needs to go and I need to let go.  It makes me think a lot about what love means.   So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on.  Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own.  It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you.  It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding.  Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured.   It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want.  It’s beautiful and boundless.  Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.

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Parenting: the Long Goodbye

I am in the “letting go” years of motherhood.   I know Alzheimer’s disease is considered the long-goodbye, but having teenagers feels as much so.  Except instead of forgetting precious memories, I am flooded with them: story times at the library, field trips to the zoo, class parties, countless baseball games, first dances, and ordinary moments that have aged into extraordinary memories.

It is often said of parenting that the days are long but the years are short.  I would only add that the years get successively faster like a racing heart sprinting toward the finish line.  The teenage years are propelled with a momentum that has little to do with parenting but is filled with our children’s pursuits.  We no longer set the pace of their days.  Instead, we race to keep up or merely watch their projection as they shoot off like a ball in a pinball machine: hither and yonder, to and fro, until they finally land in their beds at night.  Still.   Safe.  Ours.

But the truth is they were never ours to keep.  They were trusted to us by an ever-generous God for what suddenly feels like too little time.  Somehow, he put us together knowing that we will each learn from the other.   We are shown we could love more than seemed physically possible and that we can stretch beyond what we once considered strong to a surprisingly soft place of resilience.  I can’t think of anything else that compares to the ways it has broken me, built me anew, and taught lessons that only love could teach.

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In the Mess: Easy Like Sunday Morning

I know songs have been written about the ease of Sunday morning, but I wish someone would write one about the angst of a Sunday evening. That’s the twitchiest night of the week for me as I transition from the charms of the weekend to the schisms of the work week. I feel like the amiable comic book character, Pig Pen, created by Charles Shultz, traveling in my own dust storm with all the to-do’s swirling around me making a filthy mess of what was once a peaceful mind.  The more I do, the more I realize how far behind I really am and the dirt cakes on — further muddying my panic.

I sort through emails.  I make piles.  I do laundry.  I boss children — an echo of repetition.  I try to remember what I needed to talk to my husband about.  I usually can’t.  I make lists.  I pick up abandoned glasses and clip close half-eaten bags of chips laying carelessly on the counter.  In all my busying, I only seem to find more to do.  Each task leads to another – a maze in the making.  I scatter about in the dusty swirl of tedium past bedtime – past reason.  My son asks me to review his cover letter for an internship he is applying for and I stop.  In that instant, where I was given one more thing to do– when I was already so done, I would have envisioned being buried under the muck of a mudslide.  Instead, I felt the clarity of grace.  I felt its calm and its cleanse, as I realized I belong in the middle of the mess.  It’s there that my independent, almost adult child asked for my input.  It’s there that the mess suddenly stopped choking me and I breathed into the precious moment of mothering.

Our to-do’s will never be done and life will always be messy no matter how much tidying we do.  Serving others in the midst of it is the grace that makes life meaningful.  It gives order to chaos.  It realigns priorities and it reinvigorates efforts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).

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Sex Education: Failing Teenagers

While my teenage son was at youth group one Sunday afternoon, I was on the computer researching a new television show marketed to teenagers called “Sex Education.”   It shows male and female nudity including close-ups of genitals.  It has teenage characters not only having sex, but also abortions. The Netflix series is described as a comedy, which in my opinion, is laughable.

I can’t think of anything funny about watching teenagers have sex while I nosh on popcorn like I am watching an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show.” I know some teenagers have sex.  I also know there are physical and emotional consequences that they are not mature enough to handle.  I could rattle on about this – the science of it, the immorality, and the struggle of trying to feel whole after giving away a part of oneself intended to unify two souls in the context of love and the bounds of marriage.  But I would just be another moralistic adult preaching to the choir.  It wouldn’t change the fact that some teenagers are going to have sex anyway.  They had it long before sexting, internet porn, and the legalization of abortion.

What has changed is the horrific way teenage sex is being normalized by mainstream media to the point that it is considered entertainment.  Teenage sex as television entertainment.  It’s incredulous.  Parental responsibilities to teach about the sacred nature of sex have been disregarded — outsourced to Netflix despite the completely irresponsible premise of a “comedy” teaching the many dimensions of human sexuality.  The reviews of the show are generally positive as the characters are described as endearing and empathetic.  I even read reviews by teenagers who say that it is a realistic depiction of what teens struggle with.  Maybe so.  Yet by normalizing teenage sex as something to explore, we are ignoring the spiritual component that is more complicated than its physical counterpart.  By debasing sex to something to share as freely as a stick of gum, we exchange the wholeness of the person for a fraction of carnal pleasure.  Teenagers are left to sort broken pieces of themselves – feeling more confused than ever as to why something that was marketed to fill them has left them empty. Is Netflix going to create a show to help with that? Read more

The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Below the Surface: Going Deep for God

I was in an existential funk questioning my purpose, God’s plan for me, and the universality of suffering.  Someone suggested as a solution that  I should be more shallow.  While I understood the spirit of love in which it was made, it was a funny thing to hear.

Besides, I’ve tried.  I’ve wrapped my self in the superficial that society hawks.  But when my closet starts to cram contents together, I am more interested in streamlining than another sale.

I am always telling my boys when they ask to buy something (that they already own four of) that it’s not going to fill them. I tell them God is the only one who can do that.  Of course, this does little to discourage their desires.  Still, I hope the message eventually settles in.

There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, enjoying a good sale, or a great pair of shoes, but the joy it brings is superficial, unsustainable, and nothing like the satisfaction we get from a relationship with God.  Thinking about the work of mercy to clothe the naked, it seems almost archaic considering the number of clothes we all own.  I recently visited several thrift stores for an outfit for an upcoming 80s fundraiser, and I was struck by the volume of clothes in these warehouse-size buildings.  It was astounding.  And while I understand that there are many areas in which this work of mercy still applies, such as a woman fleeing an abusive relationship, families who lose everything in natural disasters, poor families who can’t afford to replace their children’s outgrown clothes, and the homeless who lack proper shoes or jackets, I can’t help but think of clothing the naked on a deeper level. Read more

Parenting: Instructing Mama

The work of mercy that most embodies parenting is to instruct the uninformed.  Only it took me a while to figure out that maybe it was me, the mama, who needed the most instruction.

From the earliest days of motherhood, when I frantically thumbed through pages of parenting books in the dark of the night in a desperate attempt to find a way to coax my son to sleep, I felt more clueless than confident.

No matter how many books I read, I could never get my son on a nursing schedule, sleep schedule, or a mama-really-needs-a-shower schedule.  I had friends who were more successful with following the instructions, and, of course, I resented their efficiency and ease.

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Mothers: Strong as they are soft

I keep seeing ads for Mother’s Day with petal pink letters in frilly font and slight women wearing flowing flowering frocks.    It’s like advertisers think mothers dress in doilies, cover their heads in bonnets with perfectly tied grosgrain ribbon, and smile demurely all day wearing pink champagne tinted lip gloss.

I guess I should be glad they think that.  Maybe they don’t notice that my flowing hair is tied back in a rubber band because I haven’t washed it, the dew on my skin isn’t from sprinkles of rose water but the sheen of oil on my face that I didn’t have time to powder, and my tinted lips are from biting them in an effort to avoid saying something regrettable. Read more

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Man on the boat

There is so much information about the mass shooting in Texas.  I read one news article about how 8 people in a single family were killed during the Texas shooting at First Baptist Church. It said that one of the child-victims had won an award at the 4-H Club the day before. It was just a small detail. The article didn’t even identify the gender of the child.

This morning I was in a particularly good mood and for some reason this made me think of that child. I thought how happy she must have been to win an award. I imagined the light it must have brought to her face despite the forthcoming darkness that would reign from a hail of bullets the very next day. I thought of her mother, who was also killed, and all the busying mothers do on Saturdays. I imagined her pride and joy in her child’s accomplishment, along with all the ordinary things she did that day.

It seemed strange to associate my happy mood with any aspect of this tragedy – even if it was an event that preceded it. But such are the times we live in when our hearts are expected to endure such unfathomable evil and unimaginable suffering when they were meant for love and mercy. It makes everything feel a little wonky and wayward.

After all, how are we supposed to reconcile this? Do we just move on in our busyness? Do we lose ourselves in sorrow? Do we harden our hearts and seek the sinister? Do we blame, criticize, and cajole to push our politics and preferences in an attempt to bring ‘good’ from this tragedy?

Likely, the response for many includes some version of the above.

I didn’t intend to write about it. There is no need to belabor this tragedy by pouring out a litany of raw emotion. Most of us share the same horror, grief, and feelings of helplessness.

Lamenting on how horrific it is, exploring the magnitude of loss and grief, mental illness and gun control, and politics and policies feels cliché. It’s not that these things don’t matter or that the time isn’t right for such discussions. But somehow, all of that feels like a distraction. It takes the humanity out of it.

Our humanity is made to love, create families, cherish children, respect life, and worship God. By all accounts, the victims of this mass shooting seemed to be embracing the best of our humanity.

That’s what I want to remember.

I don’t want to dwell on the evil that must exist to execute such devastation. I don’t think I could ever understand it. It’s an aberration of what we were created for and an abomination that calls into question the evolution of our collective humanity.

I was in a happy mood today.

I don’t say that with any irreverence to this tragedy, but because it made me think of it. It made me think of that child, her family, and how they spent their last full day on earth. They died a dark, undeserved death but they lived the light of humanity reminding us of simple Saturdays, sacred Sundays, and legacies of love that outlive the notoriety of a mass shooting and the hype of such horrors.

For all of us trying to live the best of our creation, that light shines on. Certainly, that makes me happy.

If you are willing to share how you intend to let your light shine as a legacy to those who died while representing the best of our humanity, please comment below.  We could all use a little extra happiness right now.  

If you need a little hope, this might help: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/19/heaven-is-for-re…-is-for-miracles/

To read more on the family killed: https://www.today.com/news/3-generations-holcombe-family-killed-texas-church-shooting-t118500