God is trustworthy!

My daughter regrets not getting my reaction on video….mostly because it’s rare when I’m shocked to speechlessness.  So many emotions flooded me last night that it took at least 30 minutes to go from stunned to crying with joy.

The beginning of high school rocked my daughter’s world.  It began with a confluence of other events that were out of her control yet affected her deeply among them her brother leaving for college, a number of confusing rejections and adults who were overly harsh.  Had those been spread out over time, she would have handled them with aplomb, but these were a tsunami and the after effects lingered for months.  Other sadnesses came and we wondered what God was doing.  Flabbergasted, my husband and I knew that our only options were to pray.

As time went on and things were only nominally better, we made attempts to get our village to help but it fell on deaf ears.  Other opportunities came, other people arrived, the healing began in a trickle.  Another year passed.  Though there were vestiges of the scar slowly healing, we started thinking of ways to make things even better in the two years she has left in high school.  One of those ways, in our minds, was for her to join choir again.  She refused.  We waited, asked again, cajoled, rationalized, appealed to her artistic senses and all were met with the same refusal.

So, I hatched a plan (with the blessing of my husband):  I would meet with the  choir director and ask him to go hear her at her musical.  Then, tell me if she would qualify to be in the choir and then help me convince her that this was the place for her!  Looking at the end, I was convinced this uncharacteristic manipulation was worth it.  She’s young!  She doesn’t always know what’s good for her!  She’ll thank me later!

On the morning of the day I was going to email the director with my plea, something came up.  And another thing and another thing.  For two weeks, God re-directed me.  Then, she casually mentioned that the auditions are past, the choir is set.  Okay….plan B.  Work on scheduling options….all met with sticky issues and lack of support.    Okay….go to (what should have been) plan A: pray.  Show us what you want, Lord.  You love her; do what’s best for her.  Life gets busier, I put the topic on the back burner.  I know His will is going to move forward.

Last night arrives and after company leaves and we’re headed for bed, “Oh yeah, I was asked to be in concert choir today and I said yes.”  WHAT?!?!  “Yeah, Mr. Director went to my musical, heard me, and someone had dropped out of choir so there was an opening.  He asked me.”

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-EyakxuyhnuU/T00RCfvDlfI/AAAAAAAACZA/A9kfVUrE_ic/s380/female-singer-silhouette.jpg

Okay, a kid is in choir.  Big deal.  Here’s why it is:  This was done in HIS timing, not mine.  We asked Him and He opened the exact way “we” dreamed up but orchestrated all the moving parts without our interference.  It affirmed His great love for all of us and His gentle reminder that He doesn’t need our ‘help’ to do anything.  This kid so desperately needed affirmation at school and we had thought it wouldn’t ever come.  Then, this lovely man tracks her down and offers the best compliment a singer can get.

And what does Mom learn?  I don’t have to manipulate anything.  Watch and wait is my only order.  If I’m praying and trusting – two specific commands from my Lord – then I get to also have the joy of laughing when the result is beautiful.  “Mom, why are you crying?”  Because He loves us SO MUCH!!!  He hears us; He cares; He redeems!    This really isn’t about a dear girl who sings but a God who loves and drops a bundle of joy in our laps.   All I was left to do was hug my daughter and praise His name.

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A crown of righteousness

Many students have left an impression on me but recently I thought of Kathryn, a girl with weekly-changing hair color, piercings and a sullen look that challenged anyone from getting too close. Could I give her a ride? Sure! When she muttered something about how annoyed I must be with teens like her, I was quick to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love teenagers!” Her look said she didn’t believe me. I assured her: it’s true. I think they’re the most fun, exciting and interesting people around.
“No one likes us,” she muttered.
“Ha! Not so. I do.” I hoped my sincerity came through. My young friend left my van a little perplexed but hopefully more affirmed than when she got in.
I feel blessed to see teenagers differently. I see their potential as future adults; as kids with caring hearts, desirous of being themselves but also wanting relationships with accepting adults (though they’re often loath to let adults know that). God has created my heart to be drawn to them. Most of the time, when people learn that I’ve spent my entire adult career working with teens and love it more with each year, they are completely befuddled. It’s usually because they remember their own teen years fraught with heartache and confusion; a time where one foot is in adulthood while the other still resides in childhood.

As a former teen, I remember what it’s like to have a teen’s energy and stamina but also what it feels like to be young and foolish. I’m not young anymore but I have a clear perspective of those incidences that showed me in a less than flattering light in my youth. I keenly remember feeling embarrassed or ashamed or confused after a flub; sometimes getting yelled at, sometimes just feeling the sting of silence. Mostly, I puzzled things out on my own because as a Christian young lady, I “should have known better”; however, I was still a kid and needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me how to correct myself, make things right and then to soak in forgiveness and restoration.
As a mom of three kids, I’ve witnessed their own navigation of their teen years and cherished those times when a trusted adult loves them in their awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re working, ministering or living with teens, you will have myriad opportunities to love them after a mistake.
I recently had a front row seat to a situation that brought this all to mind. As you could guess, it involved a young person and foolishness. Teens are not yet adept at interacting with people and they’re bound to hurt others – usually unintentionally. And so this girl did. She hurt others by her actions and felt terrible about it. Eventually, by the grace of God, things smoothed out but what a lesson for her! In this case, she made a mistake, was forgiven and then restored. Throughout this experience, what was loud and clear is that we’re not princesses born wearing a crown.

Because of what Jesus did, we’ve earned a crown of righteousness, but in our humanity, we forget and behave otherwise. We make mistakes; we offend; we frustrate. That’s to be expected. But those of us who’ve lived through our years of doing the same have a huge responsibility: to remind the younger person that the crown is there, they just have to live up to it.
It’s not just teenagers. Sometimes we all just need someone to hold that crown aloft for us to want to stand up high enough for it to rest on our head. The best, most wise people hold it a few inches above us and when they do, almost everyone will rise up to it.
I’m not always going to get it right, but I want to be the one who holds the crown over a teen’s precious head. I want to inspire them to be better and to forgive them when they’re not. After having so many students through the years, the most special to me are the ones who tell me years later that I did that for them. They don’t use those words, but it’s more like, “I knew other adults were annoyed by me or saw me as trouble. You seemed to like me.” Hey kid – I did. You’re amazing, fun, spunky…and full of potential. And I can see that crown hovering over your head. It was a little askew sometimes, but that’s okay. In His mercy, God let me adjust it every once in awhile. Now, go do that for someone else.

7 reasons I love being a mom

It was my turn soon.  All the other mothers were saying such sweet things, exactly what you might expect.  What was I going to say?  Not what anyone expected – or even what I expected, but there it was.

When my youngest was 6 months old, I went to a new Bible study at a church other than my own.  It being my first one, I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than learning more about the Word and enjoying fellowship with other women.  After singing and prayer,  a smaller group of moms gathered in a large room ready to get to know each other.   Sitting in a big circle, we were asked to share why we loved being mothers.

What do I like about being a mother? A deep breath.  (Please don’t think this is weird…) 1 “I like to touch them.”  No one said a thing.  I explained.  “I love to comb their hair, give them hugs, tote them around on my hip, hoist them when they reach up their arms and say, “Up!”, rub their backs as they fall asleep on my shoulder…”  I didn’t need any other examples.  The women supplied them.  Suddenly everyone was nodding their heads and saying how they loved tucking them in bed at night, wiping their tears, putting on band-aids.  Touch is a beautiful gift and I’ve told my children often how important it is to be held and hugged and touched.  Not everyone is ‘touchy’, but children need it, and as a mom, it was a pleasure to hold them every chance I got.

2.  Watching them become who they are meant to be.  We can nurture and introduce but they find their niche and we parents get to revel in their exploration of sports or music or theater as was the case in our house.  Having a variety of interests is healthy and I’m doubly pleased when a good friend or mentor introduces them to a new passion and another layer of interest is added.  Sweet indeed.

3.  They make me laugh.  Their baby books are full of hilarious comments (one child at prayer time, “Dear Lord, I’m nervous about tomorrow but I guess I’ll serve you in the storm.”) but the laughs don’t end with their preschool years.  Two of my kids are feisty while funny and the other is so dry!  All sharp minds, it’s funny what they pick up on, how they twist it for a laugh and how light-hearted they make a home.

4.  I get to teach them.  Thankfully, I had two of my kids as students in class but I also teach them skills in the home and with people.  All began chores at the age of 6, they all do laundry and dishes and a few can cook a little bit.  They’ve learned to listen, to sympathize, to try to walk in another’s shoes.  They’ve helped their family with their time, sweat and sometimes money.  I’ll be oh so proud if they’re giving adults.

5.  They teach me.  I hate to admit it but I can sometimes feel sorry for myself.  Usually it’s when my extroverted self is thwarted from doing something that will stimulate me.  My extroverted oldest son once had a group of “friends” go out of their way to exclude him, make it obvious to him and then ditch him quite rudely.  All this on his 16th birthday – a Friday night no less.  If anyone could have felt sorry for himself, he could have, but he didn’t.  We didn’t know about the backdrop to his evening for many months but his attitude and behavior that night was astounding.  He was gracious, patient….everything I wouldn’t have been were I in his shoes at his age.  That example has stuck with me and I try to emulate him.

6.  They’re gracious with my limitations.  Everyone knows that no one is perfect but sometimes we moms would like to be for the sake our kids.  But, like everyone else, I have limitations.  I can’t tell you how many times my kids said, “It’s okay, mom,”  when I apologized for behavior that wasn’t up to par.  Each time, they hugged me, ‘let it go’ and moved on.  I wish I could be everything to them, but then I’d miss out on the grace they freely give me.

7.  It’s a supreme honor.  I look at these children and wonder, ‘how blessed am I that I get to be their mother?!?’  Growing up, I never expected to marry or have kids but I’m so thankful that God had something else in mind for me.  It’s a huge responsibility and one I haven’t taken lightly, ever.  But they make this life so much more joyful.  They encourage me and stimulate me and fill my heart with more goodness than I thought possible.  Thanks, guys.  You and your dad are life’s greatest gifts.

I give myself back

Last night I watched “The Passion of the Christ” again and just like the first time I saw it, had a visceral response.  Even though it’s a film, it’s hard to watch someone I know be beaten and flogged for my sin.  Each time I hear/read/watch the story, I’m reminded of what He did for me and how badly I’d like to do something, anything in return.  But what do I have?  Today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, seems like the ideal day to reflect on giving back to the Lord for all He’s done for me.

George Macdonald wrote, “The last act of our Lord in thus commending his spirit at the close of his life, was only a summing up of what he had been doing all his life.  He had been offering this sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself” during His entire time on earth.  And, I’m reminded, He didn’t do it because he had to, but because he wanted to, which is why He’s called a Servant King. How does one give back?  What could possibly be good enough?

I’ve recently been frustrated with all the things I can‘t do because of a condition that sidelines me – this year more than most.  But this year, I have begun two new volunteer opportunities.  Guess that’s God’s way of telling me that even with less time, I still have time to give.  And He knows I love it.  It’s probably because I grew up with a volunteering mom.  When I was in 6th grade we spent dozens of hours each Christmas holiday wrapping presents at the mall for our school.  It was so tiring but we loved it.  I remember Wednesdays was the day she volunteered at the hospital and later, a number of other organizations over the years.

I’m not sure how intentional she was in thinking that her time was the Lord’s but I believe that strongly now.  He gave me gifts and inclinations.  He’s shown me that when I use them with people who give me a joy-jolt, it’s super fun.  Recently I read about a man who told the Spirit, “All that I am I hand over to you for you to live in it the life you please…Help yourself to it.”  When I’m volunteering, that’s how I feel.  ‘You gave me the desire to be here, you opened the doors and on top of it all, it feels good.’

Now before anyone writes that I don’t have to perform for Him, I know.  No one can ever accomplish or do enough to earn His love.  But because He loves me, I give my time and talent back to him.  So Happy Easter, Lord.  I give myself back to you this year.

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

An unusual heritage?

Recently my son had to draw up a family tree for his family psychology class.  Okay, let’s be honest, I drew it up but he valiantly carried it all the way to school. We were able to go back four and five generations and I found myself really getting into it!  I don’t see myself becoming a genealogy hound but the questions asked at school made me even more grateful for our heritage.

With ‘tree’ in front of him, he had to put a D next to those who were divorced.  Other kids marked their trees; Son did not.  Then, he had to put an A next to those with addictions.  Again, he waited.

I’m not saying our heritage is pristine, but as I started asking questions of the older generations, thinking that surely there must be a divorce or addiction in there somewhere, they couldn’t think of any.  O sure, they thought so and so had a brother who liked to drink, but otherwise, no. Is it just me or is that unusual?

What really caught our eye was that all the names were of Dutch heritage.  How rare is that nowadays to have every single ancestor be from the same nation?  On both sides?  I think it’s becoming more and more rare all the time.  I’m not saying I think that’s the way it should be – not at all, but it is a special part of our family tree.

I’m very thankful for the hardships that our ancestors endured.  Many of them traveled across the ocean for a better life.  They settled in Dutch colonies in Michigan, South Dakota and later, Washington.  They worked hard in farming or small business and raised kids who were equally hard-working.  It’s in our DNA to work and visit together and laugh and be generous with what we have.  We’re the kind of folks who go to church regularly and pass along our values to our kids.  A love for  music and sports has found its way into our relatives’ lives. Many of the women I know thrived in the kitchen or the garden; the men were active members of church boards and community organizations.  Both raised kids who were good but knew how to soak up mom and dad’s penchant for playing practical jokes.  One side of the tree contains numerous relatives with a need to speed; the other, those with such tender hearts that tears come easily.

None of us thinks we’ve got the market cornered on how to live; it’s just how we do it.  We’re not perfect and our ancestors weren’t either, but they’ve given us a path that is a blessing to follow.  A popular song on one side of the family has a line in it that says, “May all who come behind us find us faithful.” Studying this family tree makes me want that for our children.   To pass on all the good and solid qualities from the generations before us.  There’s a lot to be proud of there.

Okay, that doesn’t help

I know that generally, people mean well.  Really, they do, but there’s some real ham-handedness going on out there.  This week I’ve had a hand-full of people mention how they cringe when they are offered cliches when what they were really looking for was some compassion or understanding.

Okay, okay, I know not everyone is a counselor, nor should they be but can we not say to people who have just lost a loved one, “Well, at least they’re in a better place,” or to someone who’s struggling in a relationship, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or how about my most loathed, “It is what it is.”  Ugh!!!!

That last one frosts me because I heard it said too many times from someone who used it as an excuse for his ineptness, his tardiness and his apathy.  Schedule a meeting (you’re supposed to lead) and not show up? Well, it is what it is.  Disappoint and frustrate a dozen people because you continually over-promise and under-deliver?  Well, it is what it is.  Actually, no.  What it is is rude.  It’s a cop-out.  It’s lame.  Own it and treat people better, buddy.

The words we use are a good indication of what’s important to us.  Want someone to buck up?  Tell them Kelly Clarkson’s ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger’ line.  (not that she’s the originator of the line) Want someone to get over grieving already?  Tell them their loved one is in a better place.  Sick and tired of someone being sick and tired?  Give a flip story about how you just get up and get on with the day, as if that’s so easy for everyone.  Usually our trite responses just make our listener wish they hadn’t said anything.

Everyone will be in a situation in which we just don’t know what to say, but I vote for saying something kind and loving as opposed to trite and harsh.  Saying “I don’t know” or “I’m so sorry you’re struggling with that’ is better than posturing that you’ve figured their problem out and have a flip answer for them.  Sometimes we want to rush people to the end of the story.  We want people to just get over it already.  Don’t we?

Many, many years ago, I went through a particularly long relapse of Chronic Fatigue.  Throw in a few other complications and I was barely slogging through my days.  It was obvious I needed help and there were those who wanted to help so a cleaning crew of ladies came in and went over my house with invigorating energy.  It was such a boon.  Wanting to thank each of them personally, I called each one over a series of days and expressed my gratitude.  The first few I called were confusingly cool to me on the phone.  A few more were a bit warmer but I was puzzled by their clipped “you’re welcomes.”  Attributing it to anything else but my inklings, I made one last call and out it came:  after they left my house, they went out for coffee and all decided that what I really needed to do was tackle one little project at a time.  Other bits of advice came out but what I heard loud and clear was judgment.  I didn’t hear compassion for being an ill young mom.  I didn’t hear any kind of leeway given for having to tackle these things and more while I feel like I have the flu every day.  It was just a ‘you-really-should….’ list that just plain hurt.

Experiences like those make us clam up.  They make us determine never to reveal a need again.  They make us distrustful, because what’s behind our words are values and assumptions and those can lead to some profound misunderstandings.  Misunderstandings lead to hurt.  When someone is told something as unhelpful as the above comments, we hear what they’re really saying loud and clear and it’s not loving, kind or wise.

As the years tick by and the hurts stack up, so do the occasions where people get it right, thankfully.  I think of my neighbor Sherri who had only a faint hint that I wasn’t the image of health and one day she came onto the yard to see me barely awake and as limp as last night’s spaghetti.  God bless her, she didn’t ask anything, she just took in the scene of two little boys running around and said, “I’ll have the boys at my house this afternoon, go get some rest.  I’ll bring them home in time for dinner.”  I could have cried.  No judgment, just help.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  That scene is a model for me that I refer to often.  I don’t always get it right, but I try, and it helps to know that when people disappoint us on earth, we can lean into a Savior who was an expert at suffering.  He knew it all: betrayal, pain, sleeplessness, rejection….and he chose it.

Everyone’s going to have a weak day or week or month or year and when we do, I want to lean into a Lord who gets it and not rely too much on people who don’t.  I also am reassured that there ARE folks out there who know exactly how to come alongside others and just do what needs to be done, with kindness and love.  So if you know someone who wouldn’t be helped by a ham-handed remark, keep it to yourself and reach for something a little more gentle.  Better yet, just listen without judgment – one of the most beautiful gifts you can ever give to another.