Thursday, October 17, 2013

"What's Your Excuse?"

Yesterday a photo popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook that punched every button I have, turned me certifiably ballistic, and had me saying some not so gracious things on Facebook. You may have seen it, the photo of young mom Maria Kang with her three babies, ages 3, 2, and 8 months, looking uber fit and quite perky in her workout garb/bikini thing.

The photo itself really wasn't an issue, not near as bad as those women who post scantily-clad photos of themselves online with captions like "3 days postpartum," so that the rest of us can ooh and aaah over their amazing ability to look like they never had a baby and leaving us to assume that their offspring really were carried in by the stork after all.

No, the photo, really wasn't the problem. What got me with this woman was the quote that went with the photo. "What's your excuse?" Huh? Did she really say that? You rub your eyes and look again to see if that is, indeed, what is in print. It is. It was. I blew.

I understand that some people really didn't see this as a big deal. Even among my Facebook friends, my not-so-kind-post was met with clearly less outrage than mine (most any amount would be clearly less outrage than mine) and more "good for her" comments than I expected. To be honest, I was shocked at this.

I spent so much of my life hating my body and comparing it to the ideals of our culture . . . from the crazy messages of my childhood to my pathological fear of being fat, through the starvation time and the recovery and the longing to leave behind the cultural mandate that beauty matters most. It was years before I could be at peace with my blossoming body as it grew baby after baby, and trust that, even if my body changed with each baby, it was ok because being a mother meant so much more.

It has been a long, long road. Most days I am OK and I know that what I look like and feel like, my size and my beauty and even, yes, my fitness level, does not define me. But some days it is hard. Some days I have to fight so hard to not give in to the false belief that what I look like matters most. I have to stop and pray and remind myself, and oftentimes my husband has to remind me, that it is OK that my body is not perfect.

Maybe I am the only person, then, that felt that stab, like the flaming finger of Satan, pierce my soul and accuse me that I am, in reality, without excuse. Maybe it is just me, but I don't think so.

I think of all the women out there who have had eating disorders and who have worked hard to set aside their fears and their obsessions to focus on loving their children.

I think of all the women out there whose husbands nag them about their postpartum bodies and compare them to people like Maria Kang.

I think of all the women out there who work at jobs from dawn til dusk and come home to a house full of hungry mouths and mounds of laundry and the thought of even taking a walk, much less working out, is a distant dream.

I think about all the women out there who have pressed and crunched and lifted and run their bodies to death to try to gain some semblance of that figure she taunts us with, only to no avail and now to a feeling of total failure.

I think of moms everywhere who cook and clean and wash and cuddle and shop and drive and nurse and fix and snuggle and referee and wipe and teach and just can't add one more thing to their already hectic lives.

The truth is that God created a number of different shapes and sizes. The truth is that some people will NEVER look like that. The truth is that we all have limited time and limited resources. The truth is that what mothers (or anybody for that matter) look like with or without their clothes on really should not matter. The truth is that not one single mother, not even Maria Kang, will find herself on her death bed saying, "I wish I had worked out just a little bit more."

Don't get me wrong. Taking care of our bodies is a good thing. But flaunting your particular fitness level while chiding fellow mothers for their apparent failure is not a good thing. Not good at all.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Open Arms, No Matter What

She texted me late one evening and asked if we could get together for dinner. That was odd and out of character for her . . . initiating contact. Wanting to talk. It had been a long time. Never a patient person, I asked if she wanted to talk NOW. I drove to her apartment at 11 p.m. (way past my bedtime), feeling strangely refreshed and completely at peace. I knew what was coming.

I don't think well on my feet. I am one of those who always says, after the fact, "Oh, I WISH I had said THIS." But I had rehearsed this moment over and over in my head. I knew it would come because, eventually, A + B will equal C.

She was nervous, I could tell. It took her a few minutes to get to the point. But by then I knew. It was obvious when she stood up to leave the room for a minute and I saw the swollen belly on her rail thin, 20 year-old frame. She came back and handed me a photo of a tiny creature that was adorable, even then, and strangely resembled a Gummi Bear. My daughter was pregnant.

Deep inside I have always struggled with God. The Bible says such wonderful things about him and I knew them in my head, but I just couldn't comprehend how these things applied to me. Sure, other people could receive grace, free of charge on their account, but I didn't qualify. And this stuff about God being there in suffering? That didn't matter if my suffering was a result of my own sin or my own failure or my own being just a creature rather than the Creator. I had assumed in my 30+ years of being a Christian that God stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for me to get my act together and none too happy when I fell on my face . . . again.

But that wasn't what it was like with my daughter. I didn't care that she had wandered away. I didn't care what she had done. I just wanted her to turn to me. I wanted her to know that she could trust me. I just wanted her to know that I loved her, no matter what. No matter what.

It had finally sunk in. What I wanted for my daughter was what God wanted for me. A relationship that loves lavishly and in spite of all the odds. A relationship that doesn't throw around the "I told you so" and the "I am so ashamed of you" and the "You are getting what you jolly well deserved."

My desire to come alongside my daughter and love her and help her and encourage her in her now joy-filled yet difficult role as a single mother is only a small taste of how God longs to love and help and encourage me. It is easy to forget that sometimes, what with all the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" that get tossed around out there.

I have to remind myself over and over again, that Jesus came for the sick. He came for the lost. He came for the ones who haven't followed the rules. And he came for them, not to chastise them, but to draw them into a relationship of grace and hope. And he welcomes them, and welcomes me, with open arms. No matter what.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What We Don't Know

It is just so easy to make assumptions about other people. To jump to conclusions. I do it all the time. I hear others do it, too. We have to always remind ourselves, however, that we may not know the entire story.

Reading this (yes, you MUST read this) broke my heart. Partly because I cannot fathom the pain this mother must be in every. single. day. and how that pain is only magnified exponentially by the assumptions of others. Partly because I have seen this happen to those close to me. And partly because I know all too well the assumptions people have made about me and my own parenting abilities when they have no clue the inside story.

Let's give each other a break, err on the side of grace rather than judgment, and remind ourselves that we don't know everything after all.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Love? Or Sex?

The words twanged out from the radio, "I'm gonna lay you down and love you right" and I giggled and thought to myself, "If you're gonna love her right then you best give her a back massage, a neck massage, and a foot massage and let that poor woman go to sleep." Somehow I doubt that I am the intended audience for that song.

Typically, very little shocks me but I have to admit that I am, not shocked, but baffled. I really, really do not understand the obsession with sex and the confusion of sex with love.

I mean, the phrases are everywhere. "Make love," "Gonna get me some lovin'," "She loved him up and turned him into a horny toad," (name that movie). But they don't really mean love, they mean sex.

It isn't that love and sex are mutually exclusive, they are not. In fact, they were designed to go hand in hand in a very specific relationship. But things have gone all wonky because we desperately crave one, or both, and just lump them all together in one tangled up knot of dysfunction.

(Disclaimer: Now, I know that y'all might not think I know much about the topic but, seriously, I managed to conceive, grow, and birth 4 babies so I must have a least a bit of street cred on the subject. And don't worry, this is not going to be the typical lecture about sex and marriage and what all God intended. Most of you have heard it all before. I don't need to reinvent the wheel.)

I don't know which is worse, really. Calling sex "love," or totally disconnecting the two completely. I am working my way through the seasons of "The Big Bang Theory" and, while I love the characters and find the show is hilarious, I grow quite weary of the constant, never ending, sex theme. Even a legitimate and apparently loving relationship gets defined by sex. Seriously? Get a life!

Now, I know that the desire for sex is a real, legitimate desire. And the desire for love is universal. But we have to be careful how those two play out and how we seek to meet those needs. Think of yourself on a raft in the ocean. You are thirsty. Really, really thirsty. You know that help is on the way, but you don't think you can wait. So you do what makes sense to your thirsting body; you drink sea water. It satisfies your thirst for a bit, but then you are all the more thirsty. And if you continue on, with no intervention, drinking the sea water will KILL you. You will, while remaining desperately thirsty, drink yourself to death.

Whether what you really desire is to be loved, or you actually do crave the physical release of coitus, going after sex outside of a specific, loving, committed relationship (hint: marriage) is like drinking gallon after gallon of sea water. You will always want more and it will never satisfy.

So don't be fooled by the lyrics. The movies. The television shows. The culture at large. Sure, "everybody is doing it," or so they say. But "everybody" seems really thirsty to me. And never satisfied. I think there is a better way.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Acrophobia, Parenthood, and an Ocean Of Grace

Lately I have been more sensitive than ever to the whole parenting thing. You'd think it wouldn't phase me any more, this emphasis on parenting as the be-all and end-all of the Christian life. This idea that you have to do it right. That there is ONE right way. That if you don't do it right then your children, and society as a whole, are doomed. This idea that it is all up to you.

I pushed back in my last post about the idea that young adults leaving the church is the result of parenting. Yet over the past week I see it again and again. It is like a tightrope out there. Walk on this and you succeed. Fall and all is lost. (Maybe I am the only one seeing this. Maybe in my almost 50-year-old brain, I have gone totally loopy and lost perspective and need to get a grip. Maybe I am just tired.)

I don't function well under pressure. Never have. I can be banging out a manifesto, rapid fire, on the computer and then, if someone comes and stands over me to watch, my fingers turn to wet noodles and the words turn to gibberish. I am, in no way, a performing monkey. It is like stage fright of life.

Think of it this way: You are to run in a straight line down the field. The lanes are drawn out so that you have a way to gauge where you are. Almost anybody, really, could run in that lane, given the lines were reasonably wide apart (say 6 feet or so) for a balance check and a fumble or two. Now, make that a 6 foot wide bridge. Over a gorge. A deep gorge. A really, really deep gorge. Now, I hate heights. I go wonky and get total paralysis. So, if I were to be told to run down a 6 foot wide bridge, knowing that a trip or stumble or veering slightly off course meant certain destruction, I wouldn't be able to run. I wouldn't be able to walk. I might not even be able to crawl. I would be frozen in absolute terror and never move a muscle.

The problem is, that is how parenting is painted. That long, narrow, high bridge that you must somehow navigate without error. Any stumble, any failure, is the end of it all. So, I have spent the last two decades, and especially the last few years, standing there, like a deer in the headlights, not knowing what to do next. Any move could prove disastrous.

They tell me how serious it all is, this thing called parenthood. They tell me if I do it right, everything will be fine. They tell me if I don't do it right, my children will suffer and their eternal destiny is at stake. Others seem to have the skill, the boldness, the confidence, to able to forge ahead. I can't move.

Then God changes the scene and opens my eyes. There is a bridge, but it isn't over a gorge. It is alongside the ocean. I need to cross that bridge, but falling off means getting wet, nothing more. Falling off means falling into an ocean of grace. Falling off means climbing back on the bridge and moving on, a little soggy, perhaps, but not destroyed.

Parenthood is nothing to be feared. It is a part of life I have been called to. Nothing less, but nothing more. And below is a sea of grace to wash me clean and keep me going. The pressure is off and life is on.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Matters of the Heart

Last night I ran across another one of those articles that makes a parent's skin crawl and her heart scream. One of those articles that claims to have discovered why young people leave the church. And wouldn't you know? This time the prime ingredient in whether or not our children continue in the church is . . . drum roll please . . . you . . . me . . . us . . . parents! (You can read the article here.)
Not surprisingly, homes modeling lukewarm faith do not create enduring faith in children. Homes modeling vibrant faith do. So these young adults are leaving something they never had a good grasp of in the first place. This is not a crisis of faith, per se, but of parenting.
I don't know about you, but had I known 25 years ago that the spiritual destiny of my children was going to depend on my parenting skills and the modeling of my vibrant faith, I would have crossed my legs for good and never let a child leave my loins (and the world would be minus 5 wonderful people). Answer me this: We have a God who creates out of nothing. Who summons the morning. Who makes streams in the desert. Who divides the sea. Who can cause the sun to stand still. Who sets captives free. Who can count the very hairs on our heads. Who raises the dead. Who conquers sin and death. We have a God who created us in our inmost being. Who created our children within us and designates the number of their days. We have this very powerful, wise, loving God and yet whether or not our children choose to be in and remain in a relationship with him depends on us?

The article talks about the need of the parents to have vibrant faith. How exactly does one define that and how do we know if we have one or not? I know that all too often I am a Mom of Little Faith. But even then there is that mustard seed thing . . .

And then we are to be modeling that vibrant faith? What if you wait until all is quiet to spend your time with God? What if you need the lack of distraction to focus and so your kids don't see you searching for wisdom and pouring your heart out to the Creator of the universe? Does that mean they are doomed? Does God, who sees what you do in secret, not hear your prayers because you aren't putting them on display for your children?

I know we are to teach and train and all that. I have heard that ad nauseum for almost 24 years now. I am not saying that we parents have no responsibility in caring for our children and teaching them truth, I just don't see how God arranged it so that their very hearts are placed in my very incapable hands.

All these articles. All these surveys. All these people ringing their hands. Bob Bennet got it right.
But there's just some things
That numbers can't measure
These fragile pieces of priceless treasure
There's just some things
That numbers can't measure
In Matters of the Heart
I can plant seeds, although I may not get that right. I can water, though my track record with earthly flora isn't so great. But God, and only God, can make them grow.

In all due respect, I guess it is important to do research to try to find out these things. But we must remember that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Godly parents can have wayward children, and vice versa.

I just really don't think parents need any more pressure to get it right and any more guilt, if it appears that we didn't. Most of us know we don't have what it takes to transform the hearts of our children because we are not the Holy Spirit.

And even if they have wandered away and it is all our fault and what we thought was a vibrant faith turned out to be a tepid dribble of faithless goo, can God not hear our tear-filled, passionate prayers for the souls of our children and draw them back to himself?

Oh, I think he can.