Monday, July 21, 2014

What Will They Remember?

Recently I spent some time talking with an older woman about her parents and grandparents. Who they were. What they did. What they were like. It is so easy to see people of the past as just names on paper. Dates in a book.

As she talked I found myself amazed at how very real these people had been. Not just real in their existence but real in their personalities. Adjectives flowed describing people who lived and breathed and laughed and cried before cars were in the road and plumbing in the house.

Adjectives like forceful, domineering, caring, tidy, frugal, sharp tongued, opinionated. These people who have been gone for decades suddenly came to life in my imagination and it got me thinking. How do I want to be remembered?

It is no secret that I struggle. A lot. I beat myself up. A lot. My husband calls me a guilt magnet. A lot.

There are so many things that I should do, but I don't. There are so many things that I should be, but I am not.

So, so, SO many shoulds.

I should be more productive. More disciplined. More accomplished. More competent. More "together."

But is that how I want my children and grandchildren to remember me? To be described to the generations that follow?

What about this?

"She was one smart cookie."


"She looked great for her age!"


"Wow! Gubby! What a figure!"

No. No. NO!

I don't want to be remembered to the generations that follow for my accomplishments or impressive abilities, my beauty or my brains.

I pray that one day they will say of me...

"She was kind. She was compassionate. She was gracious. She was loving. She was merciful. She was understanding. And she was fun."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Emotional Pornography

(Sometimes I just have to write a painful and honest post. There may not be another person on the planet who can relate, but if there is, if my post is of any encouragement at all to somebody who has struggled with the same thing and has felt so alone, then I count my vulnerability  worth it. If you cannot relate, well then perhaps one day, somewhere, you may come across somebody else for whom this is a significant topic in their life. And you can say, "I know somebody else who has struggled with that." Think of this as continuing education of sorts.)

I was boy crazy from as early as I can remember. I cannot remember ever a time in my childhood where I commented, either out loud or in my mind, "YUCK! BOYS!" Boys were never yuck to me.

I married my best friend. Ours was not a terribly romantic relationship, as per the movies and all . . . no stars in our eyes and fireworks in our hearts, ours was more of an "I trust you more than anybody on the planet and I cannot imagine a day without you" sort of relationship.

I learned about love from the movies. I learned about marriage from nobody. You can imagine my horror when, a few months into our marriage, I got a crush on another guy. I didn't know this was possible. I didn't know what to do.

I didn't understand why, when I was married to my best friend and a wonderful man by any account, I could have a heart that longed for somebody else and for something more.

It was when my husband began working long, long hours that my fantasy world really kicked into gear.

You hear so much about pornography, the huge number of boys and men addicted to it, and also now the huge number of women who find it strangely enticing. This is not the kind of fantasy I am talking about. There was nothing sexual to this.

I was tired and worn out physically, emotionally, spiritually. My heart was empty. I wanted to be rescued by my Knight in Shining Armor. That couldn't happen because I was married. But it didn't mean I couldn't dream.

I didn't get into those Christian romance novels. I didn't need to. My imagination was good enough on its own. But romantic movies would floor me. One story line, one scene, and I would find myself longing for the person on the screen rather than the person by my side.

A few years later I heard the term "emotional pornography." It had a name.

Like sexual pornography, emotional pornography is based on a lie. It distracts from the here and now to convince you of something that doesn't even exist in real life. It promises to quench your thirst for love, all the while making you thirstier than before.

I was in the thick of it one day, begging God to fill that hole in my heart that had me longing for something more when I had a glimpse of insight. It didn't explain the whole problem and did not absolve me of responsibility, but it made sense as to why I was so darn vulnerable.

Back when I was in counseling for my eating disorder, the counselor asked me who the men were in my life. Nobody, I said. He was shocked. Did I have a relationship with my father? No. Grandfathers? No, they were dead anyway. Uncles? No. Both my parents were only children. Family friends? None. He was actually a bit shocked and said that every girl needs a father or father-type figure in her life to give her validation. Who knew? Nothing more was ever said.

Fast forward to middle age and my male-hungry heart. I realized that I had never had a reasonably close relationship with a male that did not have the potential for romance attached. I had no idea what it was like to be loved and respected by a male, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. Not a clue.

I began to understand how huge the hole in my heart was and how pathetic my attempts at filling that hole had been. Like pouring teacups in the Grand Canyon. I realized that that hole in my life can never be filled by anyone other than God. It was unfair for me to expect even my husband to be able to do the job that he was never created to do.

Eventually I realized something else, another hideous similarity between sexual pornography and emotional pornography. Just as we cry out against sexual pornography and how it turns women into nothing but objects meant to satisfy, if only for a moment, the insatiable appetites of sex-hungry men, emotional pornography was turning men into objects to satisfy my ever present hunger for love and affection.

Just as sexual pornography distorts the view of sex in real life, emotional pornography distorts real life as well.

Just as sexual pornography becomes an all consuming, self-centered addiction, so emotional pornography turns in on itself, pulling you away from the people who love you most and from the people who you are called to love.

I am not saying I have licked the problem. I am sure the temptation will always be there. I now know what I can and cannot watch and when I am falling into the trap immortalized in my favorite line from Sleepless in Seattle: "You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie."

I now have to talk myself through the lie of fantasy that is the romantic comedy or chick flick. But now I know it is a lie . . . like all kinds of pornography—a lie.

Most of all, I have to rely on God to fill my Grand Canyon of a heart so that I can turn and love the man God has called me to live my life with, my best friend and husband.

Beyond Mommy Blogging

(I wrote this blog post about 6 weeks ago but, for whatever reason, failed to post it. There was a lot I left unsaid, mainly because I am a wimp. Then Jamie the Very Worst Missionary hit it out of the park with this post and said what I wanted to but haven't. These are the words I was able to write.)

There are a lot of Mommy Bloggers. There aren't so many "Moooooooom" (said with the inflected tone of an irritated teenager) Bloggers. This has always baffled and bugged me.

Sure we can all giggle and guffaw at (and relate to) you Mommy Bloggers and your grocery store expeditions gone wrong, your trash infested cars (we called them "rolling dumpsters"), your sleepless nights with barfing toddlers, your tiny Picassos who choose the dining room wall as a canvas. We get this. We have our own stories.

Don't get me wrong. I love these Mommy Blogs. In an era of Parenthood Perfectionism it is nice to see that normal kids, and normal moms, exist out there. I believe it is of utmost importance for moms to see other moms dealing with the same stuff. There is a camaraderie in the ranks that I believe is good and necessary to keep moms from putting too-high expectations on themselves and too-high expectations on their children.

And, the truth is, you HAVE to laugh at it all, or you would cry. "Embrace the chaos" was our motto when we insanely chose to have four kids in six years. Chaos actually sounded like fun. (What were we thinking?)

But there aren't so many "Moooooooom (insert rolling eyes)" Bloggers out there. In fact, I  have hardly found any. And this is hard. Because, in the absence if the real good, the down and dirty of it, the war stories from both within the ranks and those who have (amazingly enough) survived, life gets lonely, and we can feel hopeless, like we are the only ones.

A couple of dynamics happen here, not only are we now unaware that anybody else out there is going through the struggles that we are with our teenagers, this is when the achievement announcements begin to roll in. The praise and adulation of the very kid who, just a few years earlier, smeared his poop all over the neighbor's dog is broadcast all over Facebook.

Gone are the streaking toddlers, and the pea slinging 3 year-olds and the preschooler who just colored every square inch if her baby sister's body in technicolor Sharpies. We are now given a steady display of honor rolls and Eagle Scouts and college scholarships and ballet recitals and MVP awards and student missionaries ad nauseum. It is an endless parade of evidence that their kids have it all together and are going places. And endless evidence that they DID IT RIGHT as parents to produce such assets to society.

What happens to the rest of us? We wonder. Is this what matters? Did we do something wrong? Have we failed our children? Are we the only ones slogging through this meat grinder?

Sure, because of the Mommy Bloggers, you know that you are not alone when your toddler smashes every egg in the carton or tells old Mrs. McGillicuddy that she is fat, but do you know that you are not alone when your teenager . . . ?

See? Here is the problem. We can't post that stuff. Our kids aren't oblivious toddlers whose cute, though messy, antics can grace the very public forums of social media and blog posts. They are living, breathing, READING people who deserve the privacy to grow and develop and become the people God intends them to be.

Sure, I want to be able to share the more mature chaos and drama that rocks our home on a daily basis but, out of respect for my children, I can't. That doesn't mean that I don't long for camaraderie. In fact, I need more than ever to know that I am not the only one in the trenches.

Maybe some parents DO have those Most Excellent Parenting Skills. Maybe some managed to pop out children wired to be exceptionally mature and focused and driven and happy, all rolled into one. Maybe some are able to skim over that very delicate stage of life called adolescence without so much as a scratch. But I would imagine that those are few and far between.

I once heard somebody say, "If you do it right in the younger years then you will not have trouble when they are teens." I just don't think I can buy that bill of goods because there are no formulas and one look at what is happening physiologically and neurologically within the bodies and brains of teenagers is enough to make you want to run far, far away.

But you can't. Because you are the parent. In my case, you are the mom. A mom who needs to know that other moms are there with her. In the trenches. Struggling to survive.

Please don't get me wrong. I love my children more than life itself. They are so wonderful and so unique. Life is no cakewalk for any of them, and if I look at it from the long term perspective, I think that is a good thing. I want to be able to love them through all of the growing and developing and pulling and pushing and questioning and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I just can't do it alone. I need other moms. My trench is lonely.

If you need a friend in combat, let me know. I will be there for you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

This Mother's Biggest Regret

Two months ago our youngest turned 18. Next month she will finish high school. From many angles, we are done. By the standards of our culture and our legal system, all four of our children are now adults.

This is a huge milestone for most parents and it is for us as well.

Now I am somebody who is always full of regrets. Much more than I should be. It is easy for me to look back and regret so much and, at times, wish I could start over with the wisdom and experience I have now, but with the energy I had then. Sigh.

I was amazed then, when after sifting through all of the regrets I have from my 24+ years of parenthood (and there are, surprisingly, fewer than I would have expected) one regret stood high and tall above the rest.

I regret all the times I caved to peer pressure in what parenting my kids should look like.

I cannot recount to you how many times that I did or said things, not out of a sense of deep conviction or love, not out of prompting by the Holy Spirit, but because somebody out there told me that was what I was supposed to do.

I will never get those times back. And for that I weep.

I will never get back the times that I was harsh or rigid or suspicious, when I held the line (or tried to) in areas that didn't really matter.

I will never get back the times I let my frustration get the best of me, because my children were not living up to my expectations, because somebody out there had painted the picture of what my kids should look like.

Most of all, I will never, ever get back the times when I let the guilt of not living up to the standards of what a good parent should be suck everything out of me so that I had nothing to give to the children in my care.

In trying to live up to others' expectations of what a good mother is,  I robbed my children of the only mother they had. 

I can't go back. I can't have a do over. And even if I could, I am sure that, in my fearful, spineless, insecure way, I would cave again.

So, instead, I pray that God will redeem those times when I was harsh instead of compassionate, when I was rigid instead of flexible, when I was suspicious instead of trusting, when I was self-absorbed instead of engaged, when I was fearful instead of confident, when I was frustrated instead of patient, when I was indifferent instead of loving.

And I pray that somebody else can learn from me. If you are getting the pressure to raise your child in ways that go against your grain and your gut and in ways that are not prescribed by God himself, then trust the Holy Spirit in your life to guide how you love and raise your own children. Confidently trust that he gave these kids to you and not to those other people out there who seem to have it all figured out.

Don't cave. Be the parent God made you, not the one somebody else thinks you should be.

And to my children, please please know that I am ever so sorry. I am sorry that I tried to stuff you into somebody else's mold. I am sorry for failing to see just how wonderful you are in your own ways because I was too focused on the wrong goal. I am sorry if I gave you a very, very wrong sense of the character of God, because I failed to give you grace when you needed it most. If I could give you back those times, I would. I love you more than you will ever know.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Un-Straight Paths

If you want to go west from North Carolina to Tennessee, there are several routes you can take. None of them are straight and none of them are easy.

The most straightforward way to go is via I-40, which follows the Pigeon River through the Pigeon River Gorge in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most everyone now agrees that blasting a route through the gorge was a mistake seeing how, every few years, a piece of mountain comes tumbling down, blocking the road for weeks or months at a time while highway crews clean the mess up and engineers scratch their heads and devise a new way to keep the mountains up and the road clear.

I have driven this stretch what seems like a million times since I first moved from Tennessee to Western North Carolina in 1986. But it wasn't until I had a newer car with a built in compass (I love those things) that I got a real kick out of driving the gorge. You see, you can be driving on I-40 West toward Tennessee and look up at your compass and it says you are heading east. And it is right. 

The road is not straight. It can't be straight. You have to trust the street signs and the map and believe that you will indeed get west, even though you are driving due east.

An even stranger setup takes place 50 miles east. Immediately west of downtown Asheville, NC is the not-so-harmonic convergence of 2 interstates as well as a surface street on the Smoky Park Bridge. Yes, these all meet on a bridge over the French Broad River. 

The Smoky Park Bridge is a dreadful thing and the bane of existence for anybody who has to drive it on a regular basis. I am convinced (but have never had it confirmed) that there must be more wrecks per linear foot of pavement on this bridge than anywhere else in the state. 

Three years ago I road with my newly permitted driving daughter as we crossed the bridge, and crossed three lanes ON the bridge, during rush hour while I was having a hot flash. Nothing scares me any more.

But the interesting thing is that when you leave downtown Asheville and head west out of town, as you cross the bridge, you are on I-240 West and I-26 East AT THE SAME TIME. It baffles the heck out of visitors and, well, going east and west at the same time kind of breaks the laws of physics. 

Driving west yet going east? Going east and west at the same time? It seems counterintuitive but get yourself a map and your bearings and it all makes sense. 

You see that I-40 has to follow the Pigeon River THROUGH the mountains so it doesn't have to go OVER the mountains and that involves, at times, an almost corkscrew level of winding in all directions. 

You see that I-26 comes from the north (even though it says it is coming from the west...sheesh!) and I-240 comes from the east and they have to cross the bridge together before parting ways a few miles down the road. 

With a map it all makes sense. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:9

I have to remind myself of this. A lot. My life doesn't always seem to be heading where I think it should. There are too many twists and turns. I get carsick. It can seem like everything is going the wrong direction. It can seem like I am going the wrong direction.  I am tempted to doubt God's recommended route and am convinced that there must be an easier, more straightforward way. One with road signs that make sense, not road signs that say west when my compass says east. Not road signs that say west and east at the same time. 

I am on the ground. I can't see the map. God has the ultimate vantage point. He knows where the twists and turns are heading no matter how perplexing and counterintuitive they may seem. 

My job is the stay the course and trust the One who says "This is the way. Walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prepping To Give

I don't watch TV mainly because I can't watch TV. We don't have cable and, with the mountains all around, it would take a pretty expensive antenna for us to be able to pull in any stations from the air. That said, my viewing is limited totally to the internet.

So you can imagine my disappointment (that word is not near strong enough) when I discovered that my favorite shows, "Chopped" and "House Hunters," had been removed from Amazon Prime. For two days I was at a loss until I hit upon an interesting offering on YouTube, "Doomsday Preppers."

"Doomsday Preppers" is a National Geographic documentary series that features  people preparing for an upcoming disaster. This is not just any upcoming disaster, but THE disaster, as in "the end of society as we know it" kind of disaster.

The disaster itself varies from biological warfare to civil war to an electromagnetic pulse that will fry all electronics to massive volcanic eruptions to governmental genocide to total economic collapse to, well, you get the picture. Whatever the disaster, the result will be chaos and starvation and violence and looting and lots and lots of death. And the solution seems to be the same. Store up enough supplies for a number of years, get yourself a bunker and an escape or "bug out" plan, and, by all means, have enough fire power and ammo to defend your turf, your goods, and your family.

I am totally fascinated and, I must say, highly entertained.   The entertaining part is just how creative these people are and to what extent they will go. Most of these people seem to have significant financial resources, a decent amount of free time, and a whole lot of technical know-how to go to the lengths they do.

I am even amused. It cracks me up that they are showing the fruits of their labor on the general public. Showing their secret stash of food and secret stash of 127 weapons and their secret stash of medical equipment and their secret entrance to their secret bunker and where their secret getaway or "bug out" jeep is hidden. Secret, indeed!

As entertaining as it all is, but I also find it quite unsettling.

I know people who I would imagine have done some prepping and Western North Carolina draws plenty of people who want to live "off the grid." The more remote properties for sale around here are sometimes even be advertised as a "prepper's paradise." I have friends who rented such a cabin, complete with hidden bunker and porches on all four sides from which to shoot at your neighbors when they came for your food.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to prepare for an emergency. There is nothing wrong with making sure that you have several weeks or months of food on hand in the event of a natural disaster or economic downturn or whatever worries you most. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be self sufficient and live a sustainable lifestyle, growing your own food and generating your own power and such. There is nothing wrong with having a weapon with which to protect yourself and your family, should it come to that.

But I do have a problem with the attitude of "I am going to stockpile everything that my family will need for life and, when word gets out that I have the goods, I am going to fend off anybody and everybody with bodily harm or death."

I don't know, I guess there just seems to be a "looking out for number one" attitude. As if you are the only one that matters. Your family is the only one that matters. Let's circle the wagons. It's us against them. It's us against everybody.

I'm just not sure that is what Jesus called us to do.

On Sunday evening we sang this incredible hymn at church.

Let Your Heart Be Broken 
Let your heart be broken for a world in need:
Feed the mouths that hunger,
Soothe the wounds that bleed.
Give the cup of water, and the loaf of bread.
Be the hands of Jesus, serving in his stead. 
Here on earth applying principles of love.
Visible expression, God still rules above.
Living illustration of the living word,
To the minds of all who've never seen or heard. 
Blest to be a blessing, privileged to care,
Challenged be the need, apparent everywhere.
Where mankind is wanting, fill the vacant place.
Be the means through which
The Lord reveals His grace. 
Let your heart be tender and your vision clear;
See mankind as God sees, serve Him far and near.
Let your heart be broken by a brother's pain;
Share your rich resources, give and give again.
—Bryan Jeffery Leech

Feed. Soothe. Give. Serve. Care. Fill. Be. See. Share. Give and give again.

I just don't see where it is the godly response to run and hide in a hole when things go wrong. I don't see where it is a godly response to stockpile food that you do not plan on sharing with those who may suffer starvation. I don't see where it is a godly response to shut yourself off from the world and everybody in it and defend your little kingdom with as much firepower as a small army.

Now I do not know where these preppers stand in their relationship with God and so they may not know the concepts of compassion and generosity and selflessness. They may not know the idea of pouring yourself out for another person and giving without expecting anything in return. So perhaps I should not hold them to that standard.

But I do see the gloom and doom attitude among believers all the time and I could see that it would be easy to get caught up in the frenzy. My prayer is that, if you do, if you decide to stockpile food and supplies and protection, make sure you stockpile plenty of encouragement and compassion and mercy and generosity to go with it.

And give and give again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Good Old Days That Weren't

I grew up hearing about the Good Old Days. A lot. Perhaps it was because, being a child of the 60s, I hit the planet during a time of particularly acute social upheaval. The fact that my parents were both around 40 when I was born, and this during a time when most couples were reproducing in their 20s, may have had something to do with it. The psychedelic, acid rock, drug-taking, sex-rocking, war-protesting 60s were a far cry from "their day."

The Good Old Days talk grew old. And frustrating. I didn't understand why my parents were so privileged to have grown up during such an innocent, honorable, grand, hardworking time when I was stuck with everything that was evil in life. They were The Greatest Generation. This generation selflessly survived the Great Depression, valiantly saved the world from evil in WWII, and built the greatest nation on earth, all the while (supposedly) refraining from 4 letter words, premarital sex, too much liquor, and, basically sin of any kind.

You can imagine my surprise, while sauntering through the book of Ecclesiastes, when I stumbled across this verse:

Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecc. 7:10)

I was struck with the fact that this Good Old Days mindset was not new. Not new at all for, as the author says earlier in Ecclesiastes, indeed "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc. 1:9)

I still see this though, this longing for the Good Old Days. I see it all the time when the true hideousness of our current culture shows its colors. I see it all the time in families, as they raise their children, and long for a simpler time of prairie life and one room schoolhouses and barns and chores and horses and buggies. I saw it, and sometimes still, see it in myself. Sometimes I need a reality check.

The reality is that three of my four great grandmothers died prematurely, for lack of the most basic of medical interventions that we now take for granted. Two of them died of infections that, today, would be easily cured with antibiotics. The other one died of "lockjaw." Tetanus.

Then I came across this family in my husband's genealogy. Take his great, great grandfather. Born in 1812 to a well educated, prominent family. Educated at West Point. His first wife and newborn son die. He remarries 11 years later and begins a family. Remember, this was a wealthy family and if anybody could afford the best medical care around, they could. Following is a list of the birth and death dates of his children, with age at death in parentheses:

Clara, born July 5, 1851, died May 23, 1853 (22 months)

James, born August 8, 1852, died June 2, 1853 (9 months)

Harriet, born November 7, 1853, died May 22, 1855 (18 months)

Julia, born January 25, 1856, died July 5, 1889 (33 years)

Emma, born February 23, 1858, died February 15, 1885 (26 years)

Benjamin, born December 31, 1859, died January 2, 1945 (85 years

William, born January 30, 1862, died July 7, 1862 (5 months)

Caroline, born October 15, 1863, died July 26, 1864 (9 months)

Mary, born April 4, 1865, died March 7, 1873 (7 years)

Albert, born February 24, 1867, died April 8, 1958 (91 years)

George, born September 7, 1868, died July 12, 1919 (50 years)

When my husband's great, great grandfather died in 1892, he had already seen so much loss: one wife and nine of his twelve children, six of them before the age of two.

What I found interesting and heartbreaking is how these losses just happened, over and over again. I have yet to delve back into history to try and correlate any of these exceedingly premature deaths to outbreaks of cholera or Yellow Fever or malaria or diptheria or any number of the other illnesses that could sweep across a city in the blink of an eye. But how terrifying to never know when the next fever would bring a funeral and lifelong heartbreak rather than a few days in bed.

I recently read another article. This one tells the story of a family in Kansas around the turn of the (last) century. You can read the story for yourself here. The family lost eight of their nine children in less than a week to diptheria. The article does go on impress upon the reader the seriousness of theses illnesses and the need for immunizations, but that is not necessarily my point. (If you are tempted to start a vaccine debate here, do not. I say it again, DO NOT! Go somewhere else and do it there.)

My point is that we all seem to long for those Good Old Days, even though they held such widespread unimaginable heartache and loss.

Maybe there was something good to it all. Maybe it was seeing up close and personal the fragility of human life, the uncertainty of the future. Perhaps there was something character building is seeing how desperately out of control you are of the most dire of situations. Maybe people valued one another more because of that. I don't know.

What I do know is that, given the present day alternative, I would rather not bury child after child or die, myself, prematurely from childbirth or TB or a bad cut on my foot.

I guess God is right. It is foolish to look back and long for the Good Old Days because, in so many ways, they weren't good at all. And more importantly, God didn't put us back then. He put us now. And in some ways, now is very good.