Saturday, July 30, 2011

Note to Younger Self

This is my friend, Susan, in 1986. Isn't she adorable? She recently posted this picture on facebook as part of a joke about big hair. I left this comment:

Oh girl, you are rockin' that hair...a true 80s diva!

She commented back:
Haha! That just goes to show that pictures can mean whatever we want them to 25 years after the fact. The truth is that I was an insecure 17-year-old who thought that I wasn't cool enough, thin enough or smart enough. I wish I could go meet that girl and tell her that she was really all three.
Susan is a really dear friend. She is also ridiculously impressive.

She is married with two kids. By the age of 26, she had completed a PhD in Neuroscience from Emory.

A full-time professor, she's been her daughter's Girl Scout troop leader and the student government faculty advisor where she teaches. Two years ago she was voted "Professor of the Year."

She spends time throughout the summer with her best and brightest students in the lab...just because she wants to help them get into good graduate schools.

She's also finishing up a Master's Degree in Bioethics. {Because clearly, she needs to bolster those credentials.}

I've often told Susan that she has better time-management skills than any person on the planet.

As if that's not enough, she is witty and creative and multi-talented. She cares for others and personifies devotion. I love Susan because, well, I just love Susan...and she has been a precious friend to me over the last 9 years.

When I read her comment, I was immediately struck by how someone like Susan ever thought she was anything "less than." And then I was immediately struck by how I thought so many of the same things at that age. You probably did too.

Now I am not as accomplished as Susan, but I still never came close to measuring up to my own standards. At 17, I did not consider myself noteworthy. I longed to be someone impressive but felt forever relegated to the land of mediocrity.

Looking back, I would have told my younger self that there's so much more than popularity, beauty, athleticism or having the highest GPA.

Yet here I am, at 38, and I still struggle from time to time. There will forever be those who are more "popular" and likable, those who are lovelier {and have less gray hair,} those who run further and faster or complete triathlons, those who are smarter or better writers or more accomplished as mothers and "domestic engineers."

In a way, do we girls ever really graduate? Do we ever "measure up" in our own eyes?

There is, however, one thing that distinguishes me now from my teenage self {besides stretch marks.} I may not totally know who I am, but I'm finally learning who I'm not. It's something I'm learning to embrace actually. I can admire others' talents, gifts and attributes without wishing they were mine.

Please tell me that's a sign of grace and maturity. Please. Because the process of acceptance has been painfully slow and hard-fought.

But I can say that there is finally less striving, not as much wishing, and a whole lot more accepting.

My friend, Katie, and I were sitting in my driveway a few days ago discussing this very issue. She figured out who she wasn't long before I figured that out for myself. I envy that. She also told me that one of her favorite quotes is from the great philosopher, Dolly Parton:

Find out who you are and do it on purpose.

Don't you love that?

So in light of Dolly's wise words and Susan's wishes for her younger self, here's a note to my younger self:

Love your skin. And your body. And your hair. Because it all sags and stretches, grays and thins faster than you can say "Botox." It really is what's on the inside that counts. Sunbathing on the trampoline in Crisco is a bad idea. You can thank me later. Most importantly, quit wishing you are someone you're not. Get to know yourself and embrace the God-given uniqueness that is you. I could tell you more but you're 17 so this will probably go right in one ear and out the other.

P.S. : Your parents are smart and usually right after all...especially the part about nothing good ever happening after midnight.

P.S.S : Forty will be here sooner than you think and it's not as old as it sounds.

Love, Me

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Call to Rest, Part 2

I wrote the first installment of "A Call to Rest" a month ago and had planned for this one to be an immediate follow-up. But life has a way of interrupting and other things were on my heart. I've learned that I typically write best out of the moment.

But I'm ready to revisit this issue of rest and priorities. Maybe it's timelier now anyway as we consider back-to-school schedules and count down the remaining lazy days of summer.

"A Call to Rest Part I" talked a lot about acceptance and surrender.

But there's another piece to the puzzle of finding rest and it deals with "opportunity cost." I've written about that before too. But I think the simplest way of explaining it is this: Every yes is also a no.

Emily was the one who really made me think about this issue in a post entitled, "how saying yes (and no) shape a life story." Consider her wise words: When you say yes to things, you automatically say no to other things whether you mean to or not.

For days I processed that simple and astounding truth. It was a total "A-Ha moment" for me. And I realized that much of the stress and frustration with myself and with others was because I refused to accept the reality of opportunity cost, cause and effect, yes and no...whatever you want to call it.

It looks different in all of our lives but for me I've often felt tension between creative or intellectual pursuits and domestic or work-related duties. Whether it's a call to write or an itch to make something, I bubble with some sort of creative juice nearly every day.

What's a girl to do? How can duty, art, and motherhood all peacefully coexist?

To complicate matters, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I want to be creative in a clean house with clean laundry. I feel like I should make healthy, delicious meals with ingredients from the farmer's market or purchased for pennies with my stacks of organized coupons.

I'm just getting started. It gets worse.

In my ridiculously perfect world, I get up in the early morning hours to run and have quiet time before the kids get up. And after we feast on eggs from our chicken coop and muffins baked from freshly-milled grains, we begin our day of classical education at home.

We always stay on schedule. {Cue lightening bolt.} My toddler plays quietly on a rug with blocks. And as the older two kids work independently, I teach said toddler to read. Even though he is three. And then he obediently goes back to the blocks.

In my overachieving world, I am also able to weave soccer and golf and music lessons into our well as afternoon rest time and classical books that I read aloud to the children each evening.

And in the midst of these well-managed days, I find time for coffee with friends, weekly dates with my husband, and all of my creative pursuits. My house is beautiful and orderly.

Because my perfect world is also a charitable one, we volunteer as a family. And do service-learning projects. My kitchen remains clean and my floors stay mopped because I have trained my kids to cheerfully and dutifully help out around the house while I bake lasagnas for new moms.

And for the icing on the make-believe cake, we are debt-free and donate a substantial portion of our income to missions.

At this point you are rolling your eyes and so am I. Because these expectations are clearly ridiculous and too much. But that big ol' list is just the tip of the iceberg. I have at one point or another expected and even demanded that I live that impossible life even if I didn't realize I was carting around such a heavy load of expectation.

It's easy to look at everyone else and what they're doing, craft some sort of a composite superwoman, and then try to wear the every-woman-super-woman costume every day.

That's just sad. And delusional.

I can't tell you how to prioritize but I can encourage you to take inventory of your expectations. It's what I have to do every single day.

Recently I said "yes" to an all-day Saturday excursion with my daughter. We had some important coming-of-age things to talk about so I wove it into a non-threatening day of lunch and shopping. We didn't get home until dark and even then, she still wasn't done talking. Our time together had encouraged her to open up about some things. So I said "yes" to all of that too.

When Monday morning rolled around, mocking me with a messy house and the absence of bread and milk, I remembered that I'd spent all day Saturday building a relationship with the most precious girl in the world to me. I still bristled as I surveyed the disarray and inventoried the fridge, but I also experienced a sort of acceptance, reminding myself that "yes" to relationship meant "no" to domestic productivity.

This rings true for the less consequential decisions as well. When I say "yes" to writing, it probably means I've said "no" to a tidy kitchen or folded laundry.

Come fall, when I say "yes" to soccer for two kids and piano lessons, I accept that I'm saying "no" {for a short season} to calm evenings together as a family and lots of leisurely dinners around the table.

For our family, saying "yes" to homeschooling means saying "no" to a host of other good things. And for homeschooling to work for us this year, we've decided to say "yes" to childcare for the youngest. Instead of wrangling this active and extroverted 3-year-old while educating the older two, I've decided to send him to preschool from 9-1...four days a week.

Homeschooling older kids while occupying an active preschooler works just fine for some people but last year about did me in. I decided to say "no" to crazy and "yes" to a more peaceful and productive school environment for the older two and their mama.

There's no wrong...but there is a choice.

And it's tough to make peace with our choices but we must. If you're a stay-at-home-mom you've said "yes" to staying home and "no" to an extra paycheck and the personal pursuit of a career. And if you work outside the home, you've said "yes" to a paycheck and the rewards of your profession while saying "no" to lots of time at home and volunteering at your kids' school.

I should know. I've done both and I've struggled with balance and guilt and acceptance in every season and with each decision.

In recent months, I reluctantly said "no" to two part-time jobs even though I enjoyed them and they helped us financially. But my family has some special needs right now and I need to be focused on marriage, children, home, and healing. Those "no" decisions have ushered me into a place of peace and prioritizing.

Sisters, we can't do it all but we live as if we can. And then we wonder why we're guilt-ridden, tired and lacking.

Sometimes rest simply begins with accepting the yes and the no for each day and for each season. I repeat this sentence to myself multiple times every single day. Because I said "yes" to ________, I've said "no" to _________.

These days, I aspire to do less and to live more. To tidy up less and to rest more. To do what I can, when I can, and to accept the undone and unattempted. And I'm learning, ironically, that being an intentional "underachiever" is actually a great accomplishment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eternity in Our Hearts...

She came into my bed at midnight and her brother snuggled in tight at 4 am. There I was, wedged between a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, both struggling with bad thoughts and bad dreams.

Normally I'd resent their bony limbs and tossing, turning selves precluding my sleep. But not tonight. Tonight I breathed them in and thanked God for their warm bodies nestled against me.

Once I knew sleep would elude me the rest of the night, I put on the kettle and sat down to write. It's a post I began scrawling out a week and a half ago but writing has taken a back seat to life.

It's ironic actually. The message of that half-written post foreshadowed the week that was to come in a way I could have never predicted.

I'd planned to write about how it's the tapestry of triumph and tragedy, joy and despair, hope and heartache that make life the rich experience that it is. How joy and the gifts of the everyday are so much more celebratory, so much more intense when we've walked through darkness and wondered if the light of the morning would ever come again.

I was reflecting upon the past year of my life and how that's been true. Well, really the last 10 years if I'm being honest.

I penned those thoughts in the wake of joyous news: the birth of my newest niece on July 3rd. A lot of tears and prayers have been offered up on her behalf these last 6 months and I can't tell you how special she is. We drove 9 hours to see her just a day after she came into this world.

Life is worth gathering together and celebrating like that.

Last night I gathered with different mom and dad, brothers and sister, aunts and uncles and cousins. And once again, we offered a lot prayers and a lot of tears but this time for a different occasion. My cousin passed away suddenly on Saturday. He was 26.

And that half-written post from 10 days ago now seems trite. It made me question if I really believe what I say I believe. When belief and reality and eternity all collide in the rawest sense, can I actually say that it's all sacred?

I still believe it's true, that moments of happiness and gratitude are richer when they're experienced on this side of real despair, that somehow the intensity of joy and pain are directly proportionate to one another. And that it's all filtered through the loving hands of a good and sovereign God...

But what do I really know? I've never lost a child. Or a spouse. Or a sibling.

At the funeral home I held the hand of an acquaintance I haven't seen in a long time. I walked through the visitation line alongside her because she has a tough time in situations like this. She lost her husband suddenly just three years ago and she is too young to be a widow.

But she beamed through the tears, told me how God is so good and so faithful. She is one who just radiates the beauty of Christ every time I talk to her. Her son is getting married in two weeks and she will cry tears of joy for her son and his bride while she cries tears of sorrow over the empty seat beside tears and grief tears mixed together and running as one stream.

That is life in this fallen, beautiful world.

It's a web of love and loss, of grand hopes and shattered dreams, of brokenness and redemption.

And it's all sacred.

The silly, inconsequential things of this world tend to pile scales upon my eyes so that I can't see right, the temporal outweighing the eternal until something shatters the scales and I can finally see clearly again.

I can't help but think of the truth in 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face...

It's times like this that make me want to trade the the broken now for the perfect then.

My friend said to me, Doesn't this just make you long for Heaven? And I tearfully nodded Yes, more aware than ever that this world is not our home and that we weren't created for loss. Death is so unnatural because we were created for life, for perfect communion with the Creator and with one another that never ends.

Loss uncovers the longing for Heaven that's already there but that's too often dulled by the cares and distractions of the everyday. And loss also forces me to grab hold of the good gifts in the here and now that are a taste of what is to come. There are a million of them every day if I'll just look.

Last night I hugged my uncle who has just lost his son and he said to me, Love on your kids.

They did. They loved their son well for 26 years. And you better believe that I came home and loved on my own three kids. So when two of them needed my bed more than I needed my sleep, I cherished the opportunity.

Because they are among the most precious of all the good gifts in this life...sweet, sleeping reminders of the good and perfect that is not yet but that is to come.

So love on your kids. Celebrate life in all it's forms. Drink down every gift you can find today. It's those good gifts bestowed by a gracious Giver that shift our gaze upward and point us toward the perfect place that is to come.


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