Like I was Saying….

I have just passed the 21 year mark of parenting.  It took most of those years for me to start appreciating the irony of some of the things I say to my kids – things God is always having to say to me, over and over again. Continue reading

Springing Forward

I'm the short one in the back, clapping

I never knew before this year that in addition to eggs, bunnies, new dresses, and ham, the Easter season is traditionally when Handel’s Messiah is performed. Growing up, Messiah was a Christmas tradition in our house going all the way back to vinyl records. As mothers, we always hope these traditions take hold and find some treasured spot in our children’s hearts. Hopefully they are later hauled out by them when they are adults and have their own families. I fell in love with the music of Messiah on some intrinsic level and I have always played the modernized version of it, The Young Messiah, for my family.

In Junior High and High School, I was a chorus kid. We sang some high choral literature and some modern numbers too.  In one production, I did choreographed steps to Broadway musical numbers and was picked to play the part of Dolly Parton for a tribute to 9 to 5.  Continue reading

Let’s all bow our heads and say, “Grace”…

I am republishing this post today as a reminder to myself. Anyone out there need some grace today?

My six-year-old is known for saying some dinner-stopping stuff, but this past week she let one fly that I will need to remember forever. She started by saying that she loves her daddy more than she loves me. Now that may sound awful, but I was glad to hear that one.  Her daddy would have been gratified to hear it, if he had been there.  He is always having to be the heavy around here so he gets the lower flow of the warm fuzzies. The reason she gave is what echoed in my head and still stirs around uncomfortably in my gut. She said, “Daddy loves God more than you.” …Ouch. Wow. Really?

Of course I had a ton of questions for her. Why did she think this? He prays with them every night before bed and I have them pray. To quote her, “He prays more than you.” Then my ten-year-old piped in with, “But Mommy reads her Bible more than Daddy.” Oh dear.

I have lots of explanations for why they think these things. That is beside the point. I was left wondering why my little one didn’t see me loving God. Do I not teach her right from wrong on a minute-by-minute basis? But…have I explained where I get all those standards from? Do I not talk to her about God and Jesus and love and sin? Yes, but…

I realized I was avoiding talking to them about spiritual things because I am afraid. I am afraid of doing the classic talk-the-talk without walking the walk. I know too many who have been burned by this hypocrisy. There is no way I could live up to all the ideals I want to teach them. It is one of the hardest dichotomies of parenthood. My children see me for who I really am. They see me get angry and tired and complain and make jokes at the expense of others. They see me dance like a fool to a Kesha song. They see me laugh my annoying laugh at less-than-spiritual things on 30 Rock. This is why I don’t want to preach to my children. I’m very prone to give up doing something if I can’t get it just right.

So God in His great timing has been teaching me about grace. Not just the work of grace that He did on the cross by reconciling us to God, but the constant state of grace that we live in every moment. I realized, through the work of the Spirit, and my great ladies group, that I have been trying to reach a place where I no longer need grace. I was striving for the ultimate sweet spot where I would live consistently and be transformed into some other kind of Christian who didn’t need to feel failure or darkness or doubt or defeat. This place is one we are all to look forward to, while at the same time realizing our inability to achieve anything but human-ness this side of heaven. Until that great day, we rely on Jesus as our righteousness. Not to teach it to us or help us achieve it but to BE it for us. It is our only peace.

So now my job is to be human and spiritual with my children. I will try to do this more each day, keeping grace in mind as the motto for me and for them. I can demonstrate love for them even when they fail. I can  explain to them how this is possible through what God has done for me. I’m only sad that I learned this so late in the game. The beauty part is, His great grace will cover that too.

Matthew 5:6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Punishment vs. Discipline

Last summer, I participated in a group exercise program through my church. Never before have I regularly exercised and made an effort to watch what I eat. I was always one of those girls who could eat anything and sit around and stay skinny. Well, not anymore. Suddenly I am focusing on being disciplined, instead of being the one handing out the discipline. Either way, it is tough.

While going through this new process, I was inspired by something my pastor said in a sermon. “Punishment focuses on the past and what you did, discipline focuses on the future and how you can grow.” After twenty years of parenting, this was a new view for me. As a pastor, he was using this to talk about how God does not punish , but He does discipline. As a mother, I started to wonder which one I use most. As a woman, I wonder if I discipline myself, or punish myself. As a wife, am I punishing my husband for his mistakes or trying to change things for the future? This perspective makes a world of difference.

As a mother, it is important to never go after your child in anger. Any instruction or restrictions on our children should be for their own personal growth. One of my biggest pet peeves is the parent who punishes in public because they are embarrassed by something their child did. I understand how this feels, but that doesn’t make it right. That is punishment for our ego’s sake and a kid can spot that a mile off. Any punishment that is venting our anger is abusive and never in the child’s best interest.

This is not to say that discipline should be sweet or pleasant. It should hurt in a way that is meaningful to the child. Pain is nature’s way of letting us know we should never do what we just did again. Without getting into the debate over spanking, there are many other ways you can get this message across to a child in a firm but loving manner. Find a way that communicates strongly, “for your own good, you should never want to do that again”. Right now, for my eight-year-old son, that is tied up in video games. For my older children, it could mean no iPod or cell phone. I have even threatened to ground my children from church when it is their favorite activity. Whatever they are attached to, leverage it without shame.

As for punishing ourselves, this is a bad habit many women are stuck in. When we cheat on our diets, we throw in the towel. That is not growth for the future. We must stay positive and start over again, a hundred times if necessary. When we fail at something new, we tell ourselves it is just not something we are good at. Certainly we will not be great at everything we put our hand to, but don’t punish yourself out of an opportunity to overcome some obstacles and triumph in a difficult area.

In our relationships, this concept is especially tricky because we are not mother or boss to our loved ones. It is not up to us to discipline them but the focus on the future can still help you keep your goals in a relationship clear. When conflict comes, are you all about venting and raging and punishing or can you take a breath and focus on restoring whatever is broken. Do you pout in silence to make someone you care about pay for what they said or did? This kind of acting out only adds to the stack of junk that would need to be sorted through to maintain a healthy relationship. That stack gets big enough on its own, so don’t add to it.

In all relationships, it is best to give out the grace that has been given to us. We will never catch up to the matchless grace of God, so make grace a habit.  Ask God to show you a place between total dominance and excessive liberty. The beauty part is, His grace will be extended to you while you are learning to sort it out! Don’t forget to extend some grace to yourself as well.

I am interested to see how this new way of thinking plays out in these areas of my life. Any time we move toward the future and away from the past with a positive outlook and a desire to be like Christ, growth is happening. Whatever place you are in your life right now, you can work on growing toward being a better person to the people in your sphere of influence. For me, it is great to know there is always room and opportunity for improvement. Let’s take full advantage of that.

Having It All

First off, I have to apologize for using the most overused title in all of women’s literature. For many reasons, this is a subject that is often discussed and will never be resolved. Women ask me all the time, “How do you do it all?” For the people who really know me, this is a funny question because I don’t really do that much. It is a lot of smoke and mirrors truly. This is especially true compared to the women who came before me.

I have six kids. My mom had seven. From the time she was 22, until the time she was 53, she had children that needed raising. She had no formal college degree and no work experience to speak of, even well into her 30′s. But when my dad finished his education and went to work for the IRS, he was not allowed to work a second job, so Mom went to work outside the home. She applied at a Piece Goods store, something she knew about because she sewed all our clothes for years. That was the beginning of my mom’s life as a “working mom.” It was the 70′s. She was not alone.

I’m about to turn 39 in a few days. The first time I was aware of my mother’s age was at her 39th birthday. I was five years old. My youngest is now five. This was near the beginning of her working mom days. I have never been to college or had a job. Well, not since I filed and answered phones for an insurance office my senior year in high school. I have wondered if I could do what she did, and she would say, “of course you would if you had to, like I did.” But becoming the manager of a store is not exactly having it all, granted.

My mother circa 1965ish

Later, my shy mother would take on a sales job that was totally out of her range of experience. She would go on to be very successful at her job, even making more money than my dad for a few years. It was the 80′s. She was not alone in this either. I was entering my teens and I knew my mother did not like this job most of the time, but she was very good at it nonetheless. It was a time when we needed that income for college for my sisters and all the things teenagers need. I really don’t think I could do that, but she would tell me I could, if I had to, like she did. But again, a door to-door, drive-all-over-the-territory, fill-out-Saturday-paperwork job ain’t exactly having it all, I know.

In 1988, when I was 17, Mom landed the perfect job for her. She became a tour guide for a local bus tour company. Mom has said many times that raising seven children uniquely prepared her for leading retirees around all over the country. She got to travel and make money doing it. She got to take my dad with her occasionally and she got to visit her children and grandchildren around the country. She was loved by everyone who traveled with her. She had been preparing for this all her life, raising children, managing a store, going door to door until the shyness was no more. She was in her 50′s and she got to see the country and have a great time doing it. This I’m sure I could not do, no matter what you say, Mom.

My mom is a praying woman who leaves the worries of this life to a mighty God. She was 39 like me, with no IRA, no 401k, probably not even money in a jar anywhere. Now she has been retired from the travel job for years. At 70 years old, she and my dad celebrated 50 years of marriage. She enjoys her grandchildren, bakes cookies, visits the nursing homes, gets her nails done, and does needlework. That may not be your dream, but it is the very definition of fulfillment for her. At no one time did she “have it all” but if you add it all up now, it is more than she ever dreamed.

Knowing all this history about my mom has always helped me not to panic about what I don’t know or haven’t done yet. I feel sure there is a plan for me and I try to stay ready for what I am meant to do. I’m pretty sure, I’m meant to have it all.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer. 29:11