Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Pit

A throw gone wrong. One impossibly round rock. An unrelenting hill.

My son had no idea when he threw the rock that it wouldn’t stay put. That it would start rolling down the steep grade of the street that circled our housing development. That despite a valiant chase with outstretched arm, the rock would continue to careen unchecked for blocks.

That it would tease him by hugging the road near the sidewalk for tantalizing moments, just inches from capture, before veering straight back to the middle of the street just as the car came around the corner.

The clunk, clunk, clunk of rock meeting bumper and then every inch of metal undercarriage before continuing its trek down the hill to finally rest against the sidewalk fifty feet away.

The car stopped and after an agonizing moment, the driver’s door opened.

Tiny, six-year-old shoulders slumped. Foreboding and the certainty of censure pulled at his features. I hurried down to protect him. To stand guard. To take whatever might come at him from the person stepping from the car.

He looked so alone in his shame and humiliation. So like how I’ve felt at different times in my life. Alone. Fearful. Certain that punishment was coming . . . and that I deserved it.

Who steps from the driver’s seat in your life, berating your misdeeds? A parent? A co-worker? A spouse? Maybe the person is long gone, but the message continues to replay every time you mess up.

I used to think it was God behind that wheel. Oh, I knew he was love . . . as long as I toed that line. Did what I was supposed to.

But if I slipped up or stumbled, I felt as if I’d been thrown into a deep pit without a rope. A dark pit of loneliness and despair, with perfectionism and control taunting me. Illuminating my failings. I huddled alone in the darkness, while God’s light and love blazed far above me. So far away. I tried to claw and dig my way up, trying to please him. To be worthy of his love.

Finally, the light shone into that darkness and the lies were exposed. I saw that God sat with me in the muck of that pit. Weeping with me. Agonizing over me. Loving me more than life.

Loving me more than his own life. He loves you more than his own life.

The enemy’s lies weave a web that trap us in darkness. God wants us to walk in freedom. Our dad wants us free. Free to be fully who he designed us to be, imperfect and limited. Get to know the Word. Believe the Word.

It’ll set you free.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Colorado Trip

This is going to be short and sweet. Just got back from a trip to Colorado and am dying to head for bed.

I met with my agent and another writer in Denver and we outlined a great new series that I can't wait to start writing. Even woke up at 3:48 this morning with ideas zinging through my mind, and of course had to catch those little buggers and get them down on paper before they got away.

Then took a quick trip out to Colorado Springs to meet all the great people at David C. Cook who were kind enough to publish my book, Leave it to Chance, which releases next week. That was an amazing experience with the bonus of beautiful scenery (though I don’t recommend trying to take pictures of the Rockies out the window while driving an unfamiliar car down the freeway).

I also snuck in a quick trip to Focus on the Family’s visitor center (kept craning my neck to catch a glimpse of Dr. Dobson to no avail).

Here’s a picture of Pike’s Peak seen from the David C. Cook campus and a picture of me with my acquisition editor, Susan Tjaden (she’s amazing and hilarious to boot).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Messiness of Differences

Um, it is April, right? Not the middle of January? Because we woke up to snow. Now for a gal who just spent a week in Florida (and prefers tropical temperatures), this seemed a bit much. Even a tad irritating.

My husband was grinning, of course. You see, Mat’s part polar bear. This is why we live in Oregon. A sort of compromise to the sun-lover and snow-lover in each of us. Even in Florida, he lay on the bed in his shorts with the air-conditioning on while I basked on the balcony and grabbed for a sweatershirt when I re-entered the snow-zone of our room

Differences. How do we honor them?

First, we have to under-
stand that it’s okay to be different.

My daughter is organizationally challenged. I’m a neatnik. When it comes to modes of operation, Mat is highly relational. It can take him a good ten minutes of chit chat to get down to brass tacks. Me, I can barely get a hello out before I’m into the heart of the issue.

I used to think there was only one way to get a job done—or at least only one right way. (That would be moi’s.) Spent many fruitless years trying to perfect my husband and transform my children into the way they should be. The better way. My way.

Control and perfectionism were the fuel that drove me. Didn’t you pray about it, you ask? Half the time I didn’t even bother trying to wrest the proverbial steering wheel away from God. I just told him to buckle up in the passenger seat.

Honor people? I could be a human steam roller to my dearly beloveds.

Frustrated one day after instructing my daughter for the umpteenth time on how to be more organized (her room looked like a garage sale had thrown up in it), I grabbed up a book on parenting children’s personalities.

What I discovered nearly knocked me off my chair. My daughter was a hard-wired messy. God had made her that way. (I refrained from telling Him how I would have wired things had I been in charge of the universe.)

Understanding that we were different and that she would never be like me brought freedom to our relationship. With the focus off trying to change her, I began to appreciate her. Honor her. Messiness and all.

And that proverbial steering wheel? I let God take the driver's seat, even if he's not headed for Florida.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Living in Now

We once owned a beautiful German Shepherd that could not be still. Not for a second. Tiesha constantly paced the backyard, or the front yard, or wherever we happened to be. Her doggy mate, Eli, would lay quietly in his shady spot and watch her, heaving a little sigh every now and then.

If I were a dog, I’d be Tiesha.

I recently had a Tiesha revelation of sorts. This past week I was with my husband on a trip to Florida. He on business, me stowing away on flier miles. As we traveled through the multitude of airports it took for us to venture from rainy, dreary Oregon, to blissful, paradise-like Florida, I saw many moms with babies and toddlers.

Moms cuddling their infants in front packs, softly petting those downy little heads. Moms patiently managing busy toddlers. It tugged my heart, making me miss my kids. But behind the longing was a pang.

Had I adored them enough as babies? Was I patient when they were toddlers?

Those early years of mountainous loads of laundry, toys strewn from the living room into the kitchen, and the previous day’s dishes making it difficult for me to find counter space to make dinner—toasted cheese sandwiches, again. (Those of you who were adventurous enough to have three children in twenty months can probably relate.)

As I watched those moms, a spasm of guilt clenched my heart. If only I’d held my kids more, played with them more. Not been so concerned with the doing of life. The endless pacing and picking up and putting away.

But I have now.

A glorious now. A reclaiming now. A now of promise.

“What’s that?” you say. I have the now moments with my eleven-year-old son, lying on his bed as we read a book. I can be fully present in each now moment with my nine-year-old twins as we play one more game of Yahtzee. I can set aside whatever unending project has captured my attention and have a now moment when my six-year-old comes up holding his latest find.

I can live in the now.

Without looking back. Without wishful regrets. Without beating myself up for mistakes made. We can’t recapture then. But we have every opportunity to enjoy and cherish the gift of now.

For you it may not be regret over parenting, but other choices that left scars on your heart or regrets that plague your mind. Maybe a career opportunity missed. A boyfriend you let go of. An abortion. A divorce. A drug addiction. A man you wished you hadn’t married.

Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You did the best you could with who you were at the time. I forgive you. God forgives you. Grace is waiting with arms open wide.

Go ahead and take that step into them now.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Getting Free

Do you see me? I’m the one with my hair in a ponytail rooting for my son dribbling in for a lay up. Love my four children with everything in me (even in those gritted teeth moments). Married to a fabulous guy for fifteen years (and still going strong).

Had it together on the outside. But for years life was crumbling on the inside. Control issues. Anger issues. Perfectionism.

Did I mention perfectionism?

I lived in a performance driven world—primarily in my mind. If I could just do “it” right enough I would be worthy. Worthy of friendships, worthy of love, worthy of those beautiful rays of God’s approval.

But the anxiety level remained high because that degree of performance and perfection was impossible to sustain indefinitely.

Felt ugly, shameful thoughts about myself. Tried so hard to be healthy, to please to God.

I rated my parenting continuously: Okay, did that right. Maybe my children won’t need counseling after all . . . as long as I can maintain. Or, the gut wrenching internal blame and shame from a failure that eroded my esteem, tearing me down from the inside.

And if you have an obsessive-compulsive personality type (like moi!) you beat yourself up over and over. You look like you’ve come from a prize-winning bout of boxing on the losing end. All after a few rounds with yourself.

Hope. I needed it. I needed healing from the lies that lacerated my value and worth on a daily basis. God’s a kind counselor. He sent some people, some books and I spent a lot of time with him—journaling, reflecting, pouring my heart out in tears.

Time. Truth. Grace. It took all three to start my walk in wholeness.

Healing . . . we all need it. And He carries the patent on it. Redeemable. That’s us. Free of charge to his precious kids.

I hope that whatever untruths you might believe about yourself will soon be exposed. He cares about how you feel about yourself. Nothing is too big for his eternal arms to hold.

. . . to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Isaiah 42:7

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Boy's Goldfish

I was working at my computer when I heard a forlorn, “Mom?” I turned and there on a tray near my left shoulder lay a very slimy, very dead exotic goldfish.

I looked at the orange fish and then up into the sad blue eyes of my eleven-year-old boy. I spoke the obvious. “Oh, sweetie, Sparky’s dead.”

“Can you take some pictures of him?” I gulped, then nodded resolutely and grabbed for my camera. (Aren’t you glad I refrained from posting those pictures???)

The goldfish had been the lone survivor in a whole company of tetra fish my son had purchased last year. (Just between you and me, I don’t think fish flakes were the only thing Sparky had been nibbling on.)

So we took a few pictures (not too many poses a dead fish can assume), erected a cross, and Tristan’s dream of being a fish owner died.

Hope lost.

How many dreams of ours have died? How many hopes shattered?

A job lost. A marriage crumbles for the first, second or even third time. A child dies. A spouse leaves. Health fails.

And life fades from brilliant color to shades of gray. Our spirit exists in a perpetual state of blah.

Hope restored.

Is that even possible? How? O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130:7.

Is the path easy? No. But is it worth it? Yes.

It’ll take time. Lots of time. And work. Lots of work. It’ll take gradual changes to thought processes and choices made.

Maybe when that friend invites you to coffee you’ll take her up on it. It may not create an earthshattering transformation in you. But it could be the beginning of one.

Connection with God and others—relatively healthy others. Others who care and want your best. Others who can pray for you when you can’t pray for yourself.

It’s where healing begins.

Author's note: An excellent resource to help you walk that path toward healing is Changes That Healby Dr. Henry Cloud.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dining With Royalty

I took God to lunch today.

I was going to take a book, but realized I haven’t created much space in my life for Him lately. I thought about ordering two entrees, but didn’t want people to stare at the lone person with two platters of food, so settled on a cheeseburger and two waters with straws.

I wanted to close my eyes and savor his presence, but again, didn’t want to be stared at. It was hard to gaze at that glass of water in front of the empty chair and imagine God sitting with me.

At home, I plop down in my quiet place, stillness all around and rest in his arms. Sometimes I feel that loving presence, other times I rely on the truth that I know—that he will never leave me nor forsake me. Feeling his presence is a bonus, but truth trumps feelings.

I learned something today.

I learned how little I know how to be in his presence in the cacophony of life. I learned how I need to train my ears to hear that still small voice when there is chaos reigning all around.

The chaos of kids fighting, laundry piling, chores calling and fatigue stalling me.

I need to be able to still my mind in the middle of a day-after-Christmas-sale or a fourth grade Babe Ruth baseball game.

I need to be able to still my mind when my “to do list” starts hammering away in stressful blows to an already fatigued brain.

Stillness and joy. He calls us to both.

I need to take God to lunch every day.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Slinging Mud

Not my finest moment as a mother. I’m thirty-nine, she’s nine. She was tired which translates to unreasonable. I was impatient and irritable. She’s strong-willed, and I. . . well, so am I.

She’s the love of my life and I’m hers. We made up with hugs and snuggles and kisses. Now she’s in bed and I’m left with the mental video or my not-so-stellar moment stuck on replay.

I feel unworthy, irredeemable. Like that moment was my only shot to prove that I can parent with the best of them. And I blew it big time in front of the whole audience of heaven.

Then as I cried out for help, hoping God would remove the feelings of unworthiness, a new image settled in. Like I’d been removed as a player and relegated to the stands. I watched an action scene of me, center stage and covered in slimy mud, just standing as more and more wads of the gooey, brown gunk were thrown to stick to my already covered person.

Then the scene panned out and I saw clearly who was slinging great hunks of the mud so fast and furiously. It was . . . me.

The other me. The heckler, blamer, shamer that resides in the dark recesses. The part of me who is like a militant parole officer, demanding the board lock me up. Demanding penance for all the wrongs I’ve done.

In the midst of this picture the Lord reminded me of a driveway I saw some months ago while out on a run. It had been stormy the night before and the whole sidewalk was dirty with leaves and debris.

Except at one house.

From the driveway all the way to the wide porch steps the cement was a pristine, alabaster white. I felt like I was running past the sidewalk of heaven. Nary a stain, smudge, or speck of dirt marred its pristine surface. God reminded me, “That’s how I made you. You were not designed to have dirt stick to your soul.”

Jesus has washed the stain of our guilt away.

For most, a quiet moment of repentance is all it takes reconnect to the One who has paid for our sins. But I’m not like most. The accuser takes up easy residence in my mind. I need more. I need his hand of absolution to touch my bowed head. So I wait. I wait quietly until I sense my heart reopen to his truths: “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you . . . There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When his peace once again aligned my soul, I kissed my sleeping daughter good night.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Control Blinders . . .

Me, controlling? Definitely not true. I am one of the most non-controlling people I know. Able to let others (my children and husband) make decisions unhindered by any interference on my part.

Children need—oh, excuse me for a moment . . . "Brandon, honey, have you done your homework? And that math test on Friday. Have you started studying for it? Please don't roll your eyes at me, Mr. Fifth Grader. And stand up straight. Slouching will ruin your posture."

Sorry about that. As I was saying, children need the freedom to make mistakes and learn from natural consequences without our interference.

Amazingly enough, it is our interference and oftentimes lengthy parental lectures that keep them from getting the very lesson we want their young brains to absorb—hold on a second, "Morgan, if you keep pulling that cat's tail she's going to scratch you. You need to leave her alone—oh, see I told you. If you'd listened to Mommy, you wouldn't have gotten that scratch."

Anyway, the more we micro-manage people—especially our children—the less they'll learn to think for themselves. And if we do all the thinking for them when they're young, it's their friends they'll let do the thinking for them when they're older.

I don't know about you, but I don't want some hormonal teenage boy doing the thinking for my daughter. If he—oh, could you hang on again? "Tyra, you're not going to wear that shirt, are you? The yellow one would look much better. I'll help you find it just as soon as I'm done with this blog. And please zip your coat up when you leave. What, you're not cold? Well, it's frigid out and I want you to wear your hat and gloves too. I don't care if you're sixteen, young lady."

Sheesh, kids! Sometimes you have to wonder if they’re ever going to take their brains out for a test drive. At any rate, the best way to raise children to become healthy, responsible adults is to allow them the freedom to grow by flexing and stretching their choice muscles (within the context of healthy loving boundaries, of course).

The freedom to make mistakes and live with the fallout of those mistakes, without the parental “I told you so,” will enable them to start choosing wisely. It will help them learn to say “yes” to the good and “no” to the bad.

And goodness knows how badly we want them to say no to the bad. So take a deep breath and practice nodding and smiling (you may need to do this in front of a mirror) for those moments when your teenage son says he'll study later, or when your daughter wants to wear that ridiculously ugly shirt again.

Happy Parenting!

In case you're wondering, this was a greatly exaggerated peek into the life of my daily parenting (well, mostly exaggerated—I don't have a sixteen-year-old yet). And the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

If you're looking for an excellent resource to help you peel your fingers off the control center of your children's lives, check out Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It'll knock your socks off. It did mine.