Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Authentic You

We had a beautiful snowy Christmas. I think my first one ever. Oregon's Willamette Valley isn't known for white winters.

I gazed out the window at the hushed landscape, every brush, shrub and tree covered with the fluffy stuff and smiled. Oregonians tend to get a wee bit tired of the gloomy days where a peek out the window shows tired foliage slumping with the wetness that drips onto the sodden ground.

But as the temperature warmed up, the snow melted and all that was underneath began to show through. Slushy, dirty snow replaced the pristine crispness of the day before.

It reminded me of how easily we try to pretty up our junk and put on a smiling face to show everyone that all is well in our world. But the fa├žade cracks and our hurts and scars start to show through.

God didn't design us to hide who we are. He didn't create a world of perfection for us to try to mold ourselves into.

If we buy into the world's lie that we must look a certain way, or that our spouses or children must perform to a certain standard of excellence, we will hide behind a persona.

We will fear being authentic in case we don't measure up.

The fear of rejection causes us to isolate. Oh, not in the sense that we shun being around people or don't have close friends.

I mean in the sense that we don't bring all of us into those relationships. Do we love the core of who we are enough to trust others to accept us too?

I reached a cross road a couple years back where I was faced with that question. And the answer was a sad no. I didn't trust others with the real me, because I didn't like her either.

I had a rigid standard of excellence that I held myself to and rarely measured up. So I pushed those parts away and tried to be someone I thought others would accept. But it's difficult to live in fractured pieces—hiding the parts that you don't like or don't think others will accept.

It's not until you bring those parts into relationship with God and others (safe, trustworthy others) that you can be whole.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bridges or Regrets

I went to tuck my ten-year-old daughter in at bedtime and saw a mass of orange peels balanced precariously on the top of her headboard. My hackles lifted (we've had a few carpet issues from her forgotten fruit remnants).

What I had intended as a sweet mom / daughter huggy end to our day, became a frustrated diatribe about how annoyed I get when she continues to eat in her room when we've asked her not to.

Head lowered in shame and monosyllabic answers didn't get me any closer to understanding why this sweet child won't comply with a basic rule.

I stalked out of her room after an obligatory hug and a muttered, "Goodnight. I love you."

Several hours later as I headed for my own bed, I thought about our interaction. Remorse welled up inside. I wished I had built a bridge to her rather than berated her for doing it wrong . . . again.

I repented to the Lord. I told him how sorry I was for talking to her the way I did. And I heard the echo of my own words to her held gently in the Lord's hands. "Then why did you?"

In a nano-second God's mirror reflected my own attitude back to me. "If you knew it was wrong, then why did you talk to her that way?"

I answered Him with the only thought that came into my brain. "My flesh."

My flesh chooses sinfulness. Not because it wants to hurt someone or be disobedient but because it's my nature. I sensed His gentle nod and smile as the revelation hit.

Where I was taking my daughter's sinful choice as a personal affront, there had been nothing personal intended.

She has a flesh like me. Like you. We're fallen creatures in need of a Father's forgiveness and love.

And He's waiting with arms open wide.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grace and Brussels Sprout

My youngest son threw his dinner in the sink on the sly after we'd left the room. It was a huge bummer as we'd been planning on playing games as a family and he was now headed for an early bedtime.

When we explained his consequence to him, he was very upset and said, "But I forgot," adding with a hint of accusation, "I'm only seven."

How often we do that. Want to grow up and have more freedom, but diss the responsibility. Adam did it in the garden. When God asked him why he ate the fruit, his first words were, "It was the woman you gave me . . . "

We've been shrugging off responsibility since the beginning.

My blame comes out when I'm late or I lose my temper with the little people. The three-year-old in me stomps a foot and casts an eye upward. "If those kids you gave me would mind a little better . . . "

God probably shakes his head and says, "I know. I have the same problem with my kids."

Without grace and forgiveness we'd be sunk. We'd live in our funks and pity parties.

Sometimes God gives us a little squeeze and dusts off our knees while our lip hangs low (my seven-year-old has the pout perfected). Other times he'll give us some room to get a revelation about our me-focus.

The cool thing is, He always loves us. (I can't say I adore my children in the midst of a tantrum—if one of them threatened to run away, I might toss an empty suitcase their way).

When I'm living through a rough day, I cling to the verse, "His mercies are new every morning." I know that once my head hits the pillow, the day's ickiness gets erased and we get to start fresh.

My youngest found another way to grace. We thought he was headed for his toothbrush as we set the cards out for a fast and furious game of Nerts. But he wandered back into the room with a big smile, his cheeks stuffed with the brussels sprout he'd fished from the sink.

I know what you're thinking. I was thinking it too—I wanted to bleach his mouth out. But I figured he survived the time he chewed on the end of the toilet plunger as a toddler, so a few germs from the sink wouldn't kill him.

And we had a fabulous evening playing cards. Grace works wonders on the big people and the little ones.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cruising and Testings

TDH took me on a cruise to Mexico to celebrate my 40th birthday. I was half the age of half the folks on that ship. Made me feel pretty young.

In fact, today my youngest son said, "Mom, how do you make yourself look 30?" I told my husband that if he'd said, "29", I'd have changed my will to make him the sole heir.

Truly, turning 40 was a piece of cake.

Now the trip down to the cruise ship was a whole 'nuther story.

You know how when you read in the Bible about God testing one of his kids, you want to smack the fellow and say, "Wake up! This is God we're talking about. He's on your side. Have a little trust, why don't you?"

Yeah, well, it's pretty easy to say that since we already know the end of the story.

When you nearly miss your once-in-a-lifetime-already-been-paid-for trip, trust can be a little more challenging to come by. That would be TDH speaking. Me? I thrive on traveling stress. Though this trip was a wee bit more stressful than I cared for.

We were fogged in from our departure city, but made it to our connecting flight. Then we waited, and waited, and waited on the tarmac. Finally, TDH snagged the stewardess who'd been up and down the aisle about fifteen times and with only a slight edge to his voice said, "Are we going to be taking off soon?"

You see, our flight was supposed to land in San Diego at 2:15. Last boarding of the ship was 2:30. Fortunately, the cruise terminal is only a mile from the airport, but we were cutting things a bit close.

The stewardess gave him a big smile and said, "Our pilot had a family emergency and had to get off the plane."

My traveling nerves of steel started to sag a little at that point. My poor husband, nearly had a nervous breakdown. But she reassured him, "We should have one here in the next five or ten minutes."

How do people lie with a smile, I want to know.

An hour and a half later we took off. We landed in San Diego at 3:40. We'd been in touch with the cruise line who told us they didn't know if the ship would let us on at that point.

We debarked the plane and ran people over to get to the baggage area. I considered leaving our bags on the carousel and hoofing it to the cruise ship, but TDH over rode that nonsense. We needed our clothes, after all.

I didn't start hyperventilating until we realized that our plane was not unloading its bags. Due to weather delays across the nation, there were planes ahead of ours off-loading their baggage.

Another frantic call to the cruise ship informed us that the gang plank would be pulled at 4:00pm with or without stragglers.

Finally, FINALLY, the bags from our plane started churning out. TDH and I exchanged nervous glances and willed our bags off first.

An announcement broke over the loud speaker. I don't pay much attention to those things. After all, I was about to leave the airport.

Unfortunately, that would be without my bags.

I noticed a flurry of people scattering toward the exits. I shot a look to TDH who was glowering at everyone. He told me through gritted teeth that there was an emergency and everyone had to evacuate the airport.

Evacuate the airport. WITHOUT OUR BAGS.

Security shooed everyone out. I looked at my watch. 3:48pm. I glanced back through the glass doors as the carousel continued to spit luggage from our plane onto the conveyor. Across the highway was the outline of the ship that was about to sail without us.

I'm one of those people who has decided that rules were made for people who can't think well for themselves. I apologize if that offends someone who loves to live by rules, but that's how I'm wired.

So I dashed back into the airport toward the unmoving security guard. I explained our predicament and asked if we could please just grab our bags and go. He said no, but then so kindly relented and helped us grab our bags and make it to the escalator that took us over to the taxis.

We threw money at the taxi driver and made it on the ship at 3:55pm. We collapsed in our room and didn't surface for two days. The stress wiped us out.

But, I learned something about myself. Even in the midst of the craziness and the certainty that we wouldn't make it, I was okay. I knew if we weren't going to make the cruise, God had Plan B for us, even if it was wandering around San Diego for 5 days.

But I was so grateful he winked at the security guard and got us on that ship.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Faith and Fat

Faith can be a challenging walk. It can also be a bit of a paradox at times—don't believe what your eyes see, instead focus (and trust) on the unknown and unseen (despite the fact that a mountain side is about to fall on you).

Faith is also a bit like getting in shape (stay with me here).

For the last four months I've been go to the gym. I find that I'm getting firmer. . . and gaining weight. It'd be a lot nicer (and easier on my psyche) if fat weighed more than muscle. So my body feels different, but my eyes focus on the scale and the way it's slowly inching higher.

Of course, now I find myself obsessively stepping on the scale every time I pass through the bathroom, a piece of foot furniture that had been gaining dust in the months prior to my weight training.

The left side of my brain tries to educate the right side about the differences between body fat and muscle and how gaining weight isn't a bad thing . . .

The right side ain't buyin' it. So I try to ignore the scale.

And along with the fat / muscle conundrum, I'm feeling a little self-conscious about how pasty white I am. I finally have some muscles protruding in all the right places, but you can hardly see them through the spider veins—though I do wear them proudly along with the stretch marks the short people tattooed onto my body in the nine months they redecorated the place.

But I don't mind opting to cover them up. Especially since TDH (tall, dark & handsome) is taking my on a cruise to celebrate my 40th birthday.

I'm not a sun worshipper—I'm actually a bit of a sunscreen freak, so I went with the bottled tan. Of course with the demands of managing all the short people in the house, I didn't find time to shellac myself until nigh unto midnight.

So there I am, trying to air dry and hoping no one pops out of their bedroom for a midnight snack. . . but I digress.

Though it's not easy, faith is continuing to go to the gym even when there are no immediate discernable results. Faith is loving a child through the ups and downs of attitudes and hormones and knowing you'll get on the other side of it—and they'll like you again.

Faith is putting our trust in God, certain that he has sifted his plans for our life through his loving and gentle fingers. Faith is knowing that mourning lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Faith is believing that He never leaves us nor forsakes us, even when our emotions scream otherwise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Skimmers and Refrigerators

I almost threw the letter away, but the envelope had "recall notice" typed across it.

I had a Mustang once that I received a recall notice on. I put off taking it in and eventually forgot about the issue . . . until about a year after I sold it. I still have lingering guilt and hope the ignition never caught on fire as it was being driven down the freeway.

Today's recall notice was about our refrigerator. I'm a skimmer when it comes to official legalese. I wish those things came with Cliff Notes—just give me the bottom line in two concise sentences so I can get on with it.

And I was in a hurry. A dangerous combination when it comes to matters of import.

I checked the serial numbers in the letter against the ones on the metal plate inside my refrigerator. No match. I was about to toss the letter, but decided that TDH should probably have a looksee just in case I'd bobbled it.

He came in when I was in the midst of a whirlwind—trying to get dinner on the table and get out the door for a meeting and the clock was ticking against me.

First, I pointed out my lovely tortellini soup and the crostini I was toasting in the oven (don't hate me, it was only the second time I've attempted to broil bread) to go with the roasted garlic (another second).

To which TDH turned with an excited smile and said, "Where's the cheese?" referring to an appetizer at our favorite Italian restaurant.

My smile grew thin as I again pointed out the lovely crostini and roasted garlic to go with the soup.

He waited patiently.

Why is it that when they ask a simple question, we feel as if we're under attack and our voices take on a helicopter whine? "I've been gone all day, I just threw what I had together. There is no cheese!" I explained with a tight smile.

His eyebrows rose slightly, but he wisely didn't say a word.

I motioned toward the letter on the counter and told him I wanted him to read the recall notice for our fridge. He picked it up and asked what it was for. I hit my rewind button and told him it was a recall notice for the fridge and I wanted him to look it over.

He wanted more details. I gave the tortellini a vigorous stir and told him in a rising voice that all the details were in the letter (did I mention I was in a hurry?).

More raised eyebrows, but he finally bent his head over the letter.

He was about two-thirds through the letter when those handsome eyebrows drew together in a frown and he quoted, "and in specific circumstances, may result in a vehicular fire."

He gave me the oddest look and said in a voice strangled with laughter, "This is for the refrigerator in our trailer."

Oh.

Good thing I listened to those killer instincts and didn't recycle the letter. And good thing I have such a forgiving husband who only gave me a mild ribbing for my attitude.