Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'That' woman

Photo by Elaine via Flickr
Yeah, you know her. You secretly cringe when you hear her mentioned. In your mind you count the number of ways you just don't measure up to her. She's got great clothes and you're knocking about in your sweats. She's an entrepreneur, a real estate investor, and a philanthropist; her husband is highly respected in the community. She's got it all. She's also got servants. Yep, I'm talking about HER; the Proverbs 31 woman.

This woman is a dynamo, charging through life running her own business, cooking, gardening, shopping, sewing and who knows what else. I read the list and think "I cannot possibly begin to measure up to this woman!" I forget about everything that I accomplish in my frustration over not being able to be HER.

Let's not forget something in our rush to measure ourselves against her. She's fictional. And really, aren't they all? These women that we measure ourselves against, be they bloggers, friends, neighbors, the woman at the grocery store with an impeccably dressed, clean, and non-fart-joke-telling nine year old boy, aren't they all a bit of fiction created in our minds when we take our little snapshots of them and assemble them into something that we think is the whole picture?

Some days I feel more like a limp noodle than someone who is 'strong to the task'. The list of things that I think I ought to be doing is longer than the list of things that I've done. Sometimes I need to consciously list the things that I accomplished in any given day and make the choice to be grateful for them. They are my accomplishments, no one else's. I did get up this morning. (Anyone who has ever struggled with just wanting to stay in bed with the covers over your head, give yourself a pat on the back for just getting up.) I did manage to feed my children breakfast. Was it a fully balanced, no preservative added, home cooked meal? No, it was Honeycomb cereal. Cereal that I managed to go buy at the store yesterday because I FORGOT to buy cereal last week when I shopped and so I think I get bonus points for throwing in an extra trip to the store just so that my children would be fed. And even though as of 12:43 I have spent the last three hours producing essentially no new writing, I've managed to play with and delete at least three ideas that were going nowhere. Which is still three ideas. OK, three ideas and a poem about Alzheimer's for a writing group prompt.

The next time you're tempted to compare yourself to someone else, whether that person is fictional or living next door, stop. Take a moment to consider what you do. What would be YOUR list of accomplishments for the day? Write them down, no matter how mundane they seem to you. Look at it and realize just how much you really do; realize just how important you are to those who matter in your life and be at peace with yourself.

This post is republished (and slightly rewritten) from my old blog. Because I'm too much of a perfectionist to just hit 'publish' on all of them without editing. Also because they come in handy when I can't come up with anything new.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Backbone

The other week Jordan didn't want to practice his trombone. Because I am a mean mother taking a long range view of things I told him to practice anyway. There was angst and there was drama, but eventually he did practice.

He wasn't happy though, and as his practice time progressed he shared that he was bored with the music, tired of playing the parts that support the rest of the band, tired of the trombone section always being overshadowed by the trumpets and the woodwinds. He was, to put it in his own words, tired of being the backbone of the band. Couldn't the trombones shine, just once?

Photo by jmtimages via Flickr
I remember the day he decided he wanted to play the trombone. Up until that day he'd been adamant that he would play the trumpet. (In the read-through of this for his approval he first asked me what adamant meant, and then told me he was also thinking about percussion. This I don't remember, and I'm pretty certain I would remember a child telling me he wanted to play the drums. Some things stick with a parent.) Then the middle school jazz band came to play at his school and from that day on his heart was sold out to the trombone. I think sometimes he forgets the wonder of that moment as he plugs away at being the backbone. He forgets that there was something there, something not carried in the melody, something that stirred his heart and shaped a passion.

Do you ever feel that way? That thing that you were so excited about turned out to be a lot of plugging away in the background, supporting someone else's melody. You feel bored. You feel like what you are doing doesn't really matter. If you just dropped out it wouldn't make a difference.

Parenting can feel like that sometimes. We pack the lunches and check the folders, sign the permission slips and ferry them to practices and field trips at 6:30 in the morning. We are the backbone of our family and yet it seems as if no one notices. We hope that our children will grow up to shine, adding their own unique melody to the world, but will they remember the backbone that we provided so they could grow straight and tall? Will they notice all the ways in which we support their song?

Work can feel like that too. You get the words like 'reliable, dependable, self-starter.' And then you get passed over for the promotion, passed over for a newer employee, maybe even passed over for someone you trained. And you hear words like 'not leadership material.' It can feel like a slap.

And yes even relationships can be like that, sometimes. Some people just sparkle with life, drawing people into their orbit. Meanwhile you're the introvert on the sideline, watching them sing 'Wind Beneath My Wings' but wishing that you could fly too. (90's reference! Go watch 'Beaches'.) It's not that you aren't content with where you are, it's just that sometimes you wonder what it would be like to be the spark that brings a party to life.

Dear ones, can I tell you a secret? Sometimes we are ALL the trombone, playing our one note in the song while strings and trumpets soar. And sometimes we just need to go back, need to remember what it felt like at the beginning.

What it felt like when we first anticipated that child, the first moments of wonder, of wanting to know who they would become.

What it felt like when you got the job, the joy that you felt in accomplishing something by the end of the day.

Remember the thing that stirred in your soul and brought you to this place. You had a dream, and while that dream may not have looked like being the backbone, this thing that you are right now is a part of that dream. It may not be glamorous. It may be messy and a little bit boring and like a lot of sitting around and waiting.

But just you wait, because somewhere out there is a wide-eyed player of songs just starting their journey and they will look at you, at the notes you play and the ease with which you play them and something will stir in their soul. You, in all your backbone glory, are the inspiration for someone else.

Even if you never know it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Morning dance

Photo by Diana via Flickr
Every morning it's the same dance. Down the steps, turning on the lights, waking sleep-fogged boys. Back up the steps and to the kitchen. Two cereal bowls out, slide to the left, spin the corner cupboard, dip and grab the requested boxes, fill the bowls, tuck the boxes away. A turn and slide to the left, open the refrigerator, out with the milk, pirouette, pour it into bowls and more into a cup for the milk drinker. Cross the kitchen with the bowls, slide them onto the table. Back down the stairs to rouse the younger one yet again.

Back up stairs and an arabesque up for the lunch box on top of the refrigerator. Take out the bagels, spin and pop one in the toaster, spin again and put them away. Slide to the right to grab clean lunch containers, turn and pour milk, pirouette and back to the refrigerator.

Every morning the same steps, the same rhythm, the same dance. The same words to coax them out of bed, through getting dressed and brushing teeth, the same words of love to send them out the door. Socks and shoes, coats and hats, every second a step of careful choreography.

I thrive on my routines and a misplaced step, the fancy footwork of an open schedule, often means looking up from the hard floor and wondering just how I fell. So I don't do it, don't improvise, don't risk, don't try new things. Step by step by step I glide my life across the floor, following the patterns I've worn into the wood.

And sometimes I wonder if there is more. More grand leaps of joy that leave me breathless, more dizzying turns, more ground to tread. Because I can get lost in the ordinary, lost in just following the same steps every day. Breakfast, gym, work, laundry, dinner. Breakfast, gym, work, laundry, dinner. So ordinary that I don't even really see it any more.

I know that I'm not the only one. I see you there with your babies, changing diapers, cleaning spills. I see you in the rush from soccer game to school concert, scrolling on your phone because this, THIS in the between times while you wait for things to start is the only moment you have to breathe, and this is the only way that you know how to catch your breath. I see you with your plans and schedules, trying to Do All The Things and worrying that you might not do them well enough.

This is what I want for you, for me, for us...

I want all of us, all the tired, stressed out, busy, searching lot of us, to open our eyes in every ordinary moment and see the beauty that lives right there, right on the edges of our lives. I want us to see more, to love more, to live in the ordinary moments as if each one were extraordinary, because it is. Every moment a shadow of the kingdom of God yet to come and already every moment ripe with God breathing among us, walking among us, sitting with us.

Do you think that we can learn to slow down, to see the fingerprints of God as he traces them over the world? The softness in our child's hands, the delight of a toddler in a new found skill, the long-legged gawkiness of the growing adolescent, the ability of a teen to coax music out of an instrument, sunrises, sunsets...every single moment that seems so ordinary bumping up against the border of something that is extraordinary, every moment pressing towards the hope of things unseen, an echo of kingdom yet to come.

This is what I want from life...to be open to the possibility of dancing in the most ordinary of moments. Not with careful, measured steps, but with joyful abandon to the God of all things, the God of the ordinary spaces, the God of morning dances.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Love song for the Church

Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr
 I've been writing and praying over this post for weeks. Ever since this year's round of 'why we don't need the church' vs. 'why we DO need the church' hit the internet. And it sat here and sat here, and then last week the church got all ugly and human and messy again with people yelling on all sides of the online world and people with hearts breaking in the flesh and blood world until I want to pull everyone into the room like I do with my boys, sit them down and say "Listen here! You may not agree on everything, and that's part of life. But let me tell you what else is part of life...we are FAMILY, and family does not disrespect each other. Family learns how to get along even when we don't like what the other person is doing, even when it is DRIVING US NUTS!" And then I would bake some cookies and we'd all sit around over cookies and coffee (decaf, because we all need to chill a little) and we'd speak kindly to each other and maybe we'd offer to share our toys, no strings attached.

I did not love the church for a long time. I grew up in it, nurtured on services both Sunday morning and evening, scared into belief and a life-long fear of bear traps at the children's service of a crusade. I lived a small-town life of Vacation Bible School, youth group every Wednesday, Bible quizzing and daily chapel at the Christian school. I ate my fill of church, stuffed and gorged on the Word of God and the fear of the fires of hell if I stepped out of line. Life was black and white, no room for questioning, no room for differing. I was a quiet, introverted misfit with a quietly rebellious heart. I played the good girl well.

I ran from the church as soon as I could. Ran from the requirements, ran from the rules, ran from all of the ways I didn't fit in. Because I didn't love it. God wasn't as simple as I'd been led to believe in those early Sunday School years, and no one told me it was ok to have questions and struggle and not always be certain. No one told me it was ok to disagree with the current stance on Halloween or to like music that wasn't Christian or classical. (I have a woefully underdeveloped knowledge of the music of my generation.) No one told me that good people, Christian people, come in all denominations and shapes and colors and attitudes. The spectrum of people who love God, really deeply love him, is broader and deeper than I ever knew.

But God is the shepherd who looks for the sheep, and in those in-between years when I didn't know where I fit, he found me. And he took me on a journey of slowly building something new. We started with Sunday evening worship every week in that little round building on top of the hill where I learned to gather with the body because I wanted to, not because anyone said that I had to. Slowly, over the course of several years, he brought me back to church through the messiest of circumstances. There's something special about a church that holds you in the midst of your mess, lets you cry on their shoulders, takes you in when you are alone.

It's this church that so many are leaving now, the Evangelical church of culture wars, a comingled politics and religion, the assumption of certainty about so many things. And it is true that it's not a church I would choose to attend again. But they loved, and loved well when I needed it most. And yes, it was messy and imperfect and there came a time when we knew that leaving was the best choice. But my faith was nurtured and grown in that place, and when the word 'Evangelical' leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I remember the people who loved me there.

I can't always condone this Evangelical church culture that we've built. There are a great many things I don't love about the machine. But the people...the people are my people, my family even when we disagree. Even when we fling hurtful words at each other and kick and stomp to get our own way. Truth is, if we are doing our best to follow Jesus, even if we disagree on what that looks like, we are family. We don't have to agree with each other, but we ARE called to love each other. It's time for us to learn the language of family.