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Friday, June 29, 2012

You Can Most Likely Survive Until She Turns 18

As our kids grew up, we faced huge paradigm shifts. We were the one person on the planet entrusted to be responsible for those lives – how they grew, the nutrients they received, the weeds we needed to pull quickly. It's the most important job many of us will ever have.

We put our interests, careers, and dry clean only wardrobe options on hold. We gave up cars without the odd french fry stuck in a place too small to reach, leisurely browsing at magazines as we headed into the gauntlet of candy at store registers, and sleep. Not for the sake of duty, but for love. Well … sleep? Maybe that was a duty.

We looked upon their faces the first time, and saw cherubic babies to nurture, protect and adore. God does this for a reason. We need years of emotional investment, late night fevers that fill us with fear, and glittery handmade Mother's Day cards to sufficiently prepare us for the teen years.

It was those tender memories which fueled the denial sustaining us through 12, 13 and 14. By the time she hit 15, we'd adopted a marathon mentality... one more step, one more stride, one more Saturday night of “ruining our her life.”

At 16, we could no longer recall the sobbing little girl wrapped around our legs if we tried to go somewhere without her. In her place was a creature of fury, slamming her bedroom door, rolling her eyes, and deluded into believing we were excited to sentence ourselves her to a week of restriction – at home – with us – alone – with none of her friends to distract the venomous viper princess of pessimism.

In truth, by the time she reached 14 we were looking for ways to give her some money, the car keys and lift her curfew while still being a good mother. We daydreamed of packing up our things as she cleared the driveway and going on a vacation that lasted, oh, 4 years, and yes... there was giggling involved.

Then there would be moments of laughter, when we delighted in the young woman emerging from the sulky teenager. Of course, young women have opinions on fashion and style ...

Do you remember the style arguments? Half naked is in style and a 14 year old does need that much eyeliner! Her fresh pretty eyes were gorgeous in their cleanest state, as my makeup sunk into newly formed “character lines.” I fondly remembered a time when I didn't have to pull my eyebrows up to locate the contour shadow “in the crease.”

The wearying teen years sucked the youthful optimism from the very marrow of our bones. The image of us reflected in their eyes told us we were no fun, middle aged, uninteresting. I think it's the reason we have that mid-life period of rebellion after they take their shoe collection, electronics and stray socks and move out. It's freedom for everyone involved. Even our men show signs as they parade around the house in their underwear for no other reason than “they can.”

The people we spend our time with like us, encourage us, laugh with us. The very absence of the disapproving and suspicious frowning faces lighten our steps and eases our trepidation about who we are. And somewhere in those last two sentences... I thought … that's how they probably feel also.

A quote from Stasi Eldredge about her mother, “I felt I was a disappointment to her in what I believed, how I dressed, what I thought, and who I was. It wasn't until I was forty-one years old that I realized I made her feel exactly the same way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Judging the Judgmental and Our Moms

God managed to find us, even though we were rural, poor, and without a car.  We lived along a church bus route. I should have been thanking God for this for 38 years.  Embarrassingly, I've done more pouting than praising.  I can count the souls saved in our family alone at 19, all beginning with that church bus.  The vine tangles out into the world in many ways as we've each interacted and worked in ministries ourselves.

Embarrassment and shame breeds an ungracious heart, and after I left that church, my heart looked back with suspicion, mistrust and blame.  Some deserved, some imagined.  I carried embarrassment for sins committed by me as a young girl, and by my divorced parents.  I've harbored resentment for the legalistic atmosphere, and rarely expressed any words of gratitude for their part in my salvation.  I overlooked the incredible gift of a loving, generous and kind Sunday School teacher.  Mrs. Charlotte Ramsey was both beautiful and happy - and I still smile when I think of her.

Shortsighted, I allowed myself to dwell on the negatives. I was ungrateful for that church's willingness to reach lost kids like me, kids without a dime to put in the offering plate.  That church was where God courted the broken heart of a little girl, as though she mattered.

I've been the same in my recollections of my childhood family life.  We didn't have much, that's easy to remember.  The childhood hurts and disappointments were ugly raw wounds for a very long time, and I believed my parents could have shielded me from all pain.  In our family, this expectation was a tradition.

Those expectations foster woundedness and ingratitude.  I taught my own daughters to hold people accountable and protect themselves.  Apparently, I thought my experiences would make me into a perfect mother, able to fend off every injury for my own children - and thus be exempt from this ever coming back to bite me in the butt.  (In case you're still innocent enough to believe this is possible – it isn't.)

There is only one God.  Only he knows the secret workings of our hearts, the inner needs and the unspoken hurts.  Mothers don't.  (Churches don't either.) And not only do our children belong to God - so do our mothers.  I'm not my mother's judge.  As well as I think I know her, God knows her infinitely better.  She actually had a name before Mom, an identity that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God, her creator. 

Over the past 5 years, the truth of my mother's identity has slowly become evident to me.  This year, I realized something shocking.  While Mom always accepted and loved me for who I am, I haven't done the same.  My approval was reserved for some sort of superhero - a woman capable of protecting me from every hurt, able to rid my childhood of vulnerability, wounds and disappointment, and supernaturally know me in a way only God could. I believed this SuperMom would customize her parenting style and abilities to be MY perfect mother.  Of course, my sister needed a different model, and my brother...

I don't want to be imprisoned in memories of disappointment, pain and injustice.  There is another option.  There are memories of joy, tenderness and laughter. I don't want my mother trapped in my judgments, feeling as though she owed me something I was cheated out of.  That's the work of the enemy.  I'm setting us both free.

Philippians 4:8  "Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Don't Wear a Disguise

When we put on our best clothes, fix our makeup and add the shoes for a business meeting, date, or dinner with the girls - are we really putting on our disguise?  When a woman is put together just so, hair, makeup, nails, shoes, and purse all given the same consideration as her clothes, who do we see?  Do we see the woman at all, or does our eye travel over the exterior and assume we know her.  Confidant, competent, smart, stylish, content. 

Is that woman carrying wounds?  Feeling like she's insignificant?  We assume not.  Yet what could better disguise a vulnerable heart than a Prada bag?

I have to tell you, in my 48 years, I've never appeared to be that package.  I have never had the patience to put all the pieces together at once, and I'd be more likely to wear Jaclyn Smith than to ever even sniff a Prada bag.  I've often believed the costume though.  I've seen her at the mall when I'm in jeans and tennis shoes, wishing I'd worn different shoes and taken time to put on earrings.

My disguise says something very different - 'I am wearing this shirt because it hides back-fat', or perhaps it says - 'Last summer this shirt looked OK on me.  I'm pretending everyone can only see me approaching and no one notices my back-fat.'  You will never see me and wish you'd worn something different.  You're welcome!  I'm all about promoting self acceptance. Glad I could help.

I belong to a phenomenal small group of honest women.  We vary in ages from 20's to 70's.  We're married, widowed, divorced & remarried.  We're thin, we're not. We tan, we don't.  We travel, we're homebodies.  We come from families of all shapes and sizes.  We've been cheerleaders, we've been invisible.  We're graceful, we're klutzy.  We have jobs, careers, make homes, raise kids, and are retired.

A couple months ago we began to share the book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge.  It's changed us all.  Initially I was a little uncomfortable with the book.  It respected and honored emotions that I'd spent years trying to disown and detach from.

I was shocked to learn every woman at that table is vulnerable.  We have fears that we will never be "enough, or we are "too much" or both.  Our relational nature feels too messy and we put our heart Spanx on to contain and hide the mess, even from those closest to us.

Ironically, we say, "Just be yourself" to our friends and our kids.

One especially disturbing passage from the book is, "Much of what we call our "personalities" is actually the mosaic of our choices for self-protection plus our plan to get something of the love we were created for."

There is something significant in the fact that no matter how amazing the love affair, there is a longing for more.  Nothing quite fills the need.  This is the fruit of Eve's fall - not to punish her/us, but to save us - to send us back to the lover of our souls for the completion we need.

Eve's sin was believing God wasn't really there for her, so she had to take matters into her own hands.  It was mistrust.  She had to know everything God knew so she could feel secure.  We all handle that differently.

Some of us become driven and controlling because the message we believe is "No one will catch you when you fall.  No one will be there for you".   Some of us wear it as neediness - desperately yearning for someone else to fill us and unable to hide it.

But this empty space is in the shape of God.  Only He can fill it.  He made it for Himself.

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul  by Stasi & John Eldredge