“You’re so hard to be nice to”

Usually, if a blog doesn’t roll out of my head and through my fingers in a pretty natural way, it means I am forcing it and should probably pause and question whether I am supposed to be writing about it at all. For days, I have been planning to write about one of the biggest lies I have a tendency to live in (see previous blog). The lie is: I am not enough (thin, eloquent, smart, godly, wise, insightful, etc.). But I gotta tell ya, I have been procrastinating all morning because I simply can’t figure out where to start. Truth be told, I guess I am feeling like I need to have practiced and made some mild improvement before I start spouting off about how to address/conquer/attack my “not enoughism.”I am aware that merely identifying that my thinking is flawed is not, well, enough (and so here we are, back where we started).

Maybe if I just start “talking” God will reveal to me what’s next….

While I was laying on my back and recovering from a brutal workout this morning, for some reason a familiar phrase came to my mind. It’s one my dad says all the time and I have been trying to find a way to incorporate it into a blog for years–I guess today’s the day.

My dad is renowned for saying this to me, my mom, or my sister when he is desperate to serve us in some way but we just aren’t interested. It bothers him so much when we turn down his offer to go get us ice cream, get us a blanket or pillow or provide a list of activity options for our day. When we don’t accept his advice or take him up on his gift of insight or acts of love, he tells us, “You’re so hard to be nice to.”

To be honest, he may be right. But nevertheless, we roll our eyes and continue to do things our way. I thought of this comment in the context of preparing to write about this concept of being “enough”. 

I can sort of picture God wanting to say this to us. To me.

When I complain that I don’t have enough of what it takes to be who I want to be or do what I want to do, I wonder if God reflects on all that he has done, not only by creating us in His image and giving us his beautiful creation in the world and by sending his Son, but also by providing a great spouse, a home, friends, a job, a church, and so many more blessings that are deeply personal. Is my receiver broken in a way that won’t allow me to accept so much goodness? 

I sometimes wonder if God feels like He is not enough for me because I complain so much about all the areas I fall short. He gives me good gifts, yet my gratitude is sparse and my greed grows. I want more of what he has already given me. I am “hard to be nice to” because even after all He does give me, I whine about it or want more. 

On second thought, I think God does know that He is enough and I imagine he is a bit exasperated from trying to help me catch that clue.

I love the image from the Bible about Manna. Manna and quail. Long story from Exodus short: The Israelites were wandering in the desert and began to whine to Moses about food. So God “heard their grumbling” and said he would provide them with bread every morning and quail/meat at night. They were to gather only what they need and not save any for the next day. It was an act of trust for them to believe He would show up again to meet their needs. And He did, for forty years. Once in awhile someone would start doubting and getting fearful that God might take a day off (besides the Sabbath) and would hoard the Manna. The next day it would be rotten and laced with maggots (lovely).

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

God was teaching the Israelites to be grateful and to trust that what he had given them was sufficient for that day. Tomorrow he would give them what they needed to accomplish what he had for them that day. He does the same for us: He’s enough for today. He’ll be enough tomorrow.

You are enough for today. I am enough for today. Tomorrow, I will be and have enough to carry out what He has in store for me.

Maybe I am over-complicating it. From how I see it, I am enough of what God needs to use me for each-and-every-day. I still fall short of perfection, but that’s what His grace is for. He makes up the difference. In my weakness, He promises to help me be strong. He helps me find my identity in Him alone so I don’t give in to the comparison trap, causing me to feel less than or insufficient for the task at hand.

I don’t want to be “hard to be nice to”. I want to embrace who he make me to be and rest secure in the knowledge that where I am today is exactly where I am supposed to be. I am enough for today. I’lll be enough tomorrow. 

Dear God, help me live in gratitude for your good gifts and embrace the truth that you alone provide everything I need to be enough. Amen

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A beautiful beat-down

Before I even got there I was feeling intimidated. I was meeting with a friend who has an amazing social media presence and since I can barely figure out how to post and I feel thoroughly self-conscious and inadequate when I do, I figured she might be able to help a girl out. 

It started off casual, just going through my questions about social media. Gradually, my inadequacies in the social media realm took a subtle and then violent turn as I spewed, laid bare and splattered a plethora of insecurities, fears, and worries I had about writing and posting and day-to-day living. It was like someone pulled the plug on all that had been stewing inside me and now it was flowing freely; gushing actually.

My friend listened patiently, but after awhile I noticed that her eyes were growing wider and wider and her brows were raised in a combination of shock and information overload. Finally, she put her hand up and said, “I think you need to stop for a minute”. 

What happened next was a type of miracle. In a way that no one has ever dared to do, she gently yet forcefully scared me straight! It went on for at least an hour. I lost track of time because I was stunned but also acutely internalizing every word.

With unconditional love, sincerity and I’m not gonna lie, a bit of terrifying passion, she said something like this:

“Heather.  Where are you? Who are you? You have overcome Leukemia and the family disease of addiction. You have survived betrayal of friends and started a new career and ended a 20 yr. ministry with no small bit of emotional extraction. You have written a book (which by the way is about how we are all broken, yet together can live in hope and transformation) and are currently writing a second one.

“Yet everything coming out of your mouth, at full-speed, suggests that you have allowed insecurity, codependency, doubt, comparison, and your Ego to do a number on your thinking. You are getting in your own way. Being self-conscious of how you sound and look and are perceived on social media has immobilized you and stalled your message.

“There are people out there who need to hear that they are not alone in their struggles and you are withholding hope as a result of your fears. It’s clear what you really need is a few days alone to get to the bottom of this; reorient your mind and ponder what/Who is driving your life.” (In other words: Stop. Get help, Stat!)

Well. Needless to say, I heard her loud and clear. It was obvious to both of us that I had been listening to some lies and had turned them in to truths to live by. 

The rest of the day my mind felt sore form the beat down–in a good way, like after you have maxed out your muscles in an intense workout. I knew her words were true. I had been waiting for someone to bust me on my crazy thinking. I was exposed.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

I got home and went to my couch, not to cry or pout, but to “consider” all we had covered. I remembered a book I bought at Christmas but hadn’t made any effort to read, surprisingly. It’s called “Winning the War in Your Mind” by Craig Groeschel. I read and read until I got to the chapter on “Old Lies. New Truth.” For once, I actually did the suggested exercises that I would normally breeze over. 

I wrote out the lies I have been believing and after much effort and praying and reading, I addressed the truth. My plan today was to talk through the first lie with you. But now that I am 570 words into this confession, I think I will unpack each of them a blog at a time. My brain is already hurting and I bet yours is too. So, I will just list the lies and we can meet back here and walk through each one and the solution. The Truth. The Remedy.

And maybe, just maybe, you might be able to learn from me and prevent your own beautiful beat down. 

So, mark your calendars to filet the following lies: (in no particular order)

  1. I’ll be happy/serene when…
  2. I am not enough (my list was: not pretty, disciplined, kind, focused, thin, cool, wise, eloquent, fun, confident, godly, smart, interesting, pure, successful, “techy” enough.
  3. Multi-tasking (read: living in two or more places/realities at once) is the productive and responsible way to live
  4. What other people think of me is crucial (good or bad)
  5. Other people’s success is a threat to mine (especially in areas that I wish to be successful)
  6. If I am not “as good as” someone else I am inadequate 
  7. I am the only one who believes such things about myself 

So there you have it in a nutshell. Clearly, there is work, prayer, and surrender that needs to be done. Feel free to join me in doing so, or at least tune in to watch the series. 😉

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Glitchy

I finally came up with a word to describe what my insides feel like these days: glitchy. Actually, I am not even sure it’s a real word, but the experience is real — 100%. My life appears normal and some of the time it mimics normal, when all of a sudden there is a break, a crack, a glitch. It usually happens when I bump into situations that “used  to be”. 

The “Used-to-be” mindset is a dangerous one. It keeps me tethered to the past and disables my ability to enjoy the present. I am immobilized to move forward with adventure or hope. I just can’t let go of wanting to cling to what “used to be”.  

I don’t want to hold on to all of it, mind you. I am very selective about it. I want my kids to all live under my roof again, but I don’t want to have to cook for them or clean up after them.  I want my younger thinner body but my aged and wiser perspective. I want the grateful mindset I had when I had Leukemia without the destruction it caused my family.

Let’s face, it. Everyday we are faced with things that “used to be” one way and as a result of an international pandemic, are no longer possible. Some may never be possible again. It changed things for all of us. We lost loved ones, lost school years and proms and graduations; we lost jobs and businesses, lost community and intimacy with friends and even lost the random smile from complete strangers because of our masks.

In the past few months, as I mentioned in another entry, my parents moved from a city an hour away from me to California, a 2 day drive. Next, my son moved out (with the cat) and my daughter moved to California. I just returned home from visiting my family in Napa, and though it was wonderful, it was a reminder of what I am missing.

When I am in this place in my head, I am more susceptible to my other character defects of control and fear. I am unsettled (read–“unaccepting”) about life in general, which magnifies the fact that I have no power to change circumstances or outcomes, create opportunities or initiate growth in my friends or even my enemies. 

To be honest, I am not sure there is an answer to this uncomfortable and shaky state of my soul. Well, that’s not true. I know the answer is always acceptance of reality as it is. I just don’t like that answer.

I can choose to embrace my new reality and move forward in trust that God has something new and good in store for me, or I can resent it, dig my heels in and whine.

Right now I am doing more of the latter.

“Acceptance is the answer to all our problems”. That doesn’t mean I accept unacceptable behavior from others, it means, in the words of a recovering alcoholic, “when I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation–some fact of my life–unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” (page 417 Alcoholics Anonymous).

Let me just reiterate how much I really, really, really don’t like that answer.

But I do know from experience that when I am willing to do it–to accept life on life’s terms–I can finally relax and lean in to today. I can grieve the past and occasionally long for it, but if I keep grasping for it, I will miss what is in front of me today.

And that is the only place I can truly live. The only way to fix the glitch.

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Ladder-Life: The Rungs of Comparison

One of my many character defects has been blowing me up lately. As far as I can tell, it has been triggered by a combination of new life-circumstances, some exciting and some frustrating. I have been involved in some opportunities relating to my blog/book which is very exciting. I have also been struggling at work with an intense and challenging real estate market, and that has been frustrating. Since I spend most of my days giving large chunks of my time, energy and thoughts to these two areas, my character defect has attached itself to them primarily, but is ever so slowly leaking out and affecting the rest of my life.

I pray to God I am the only one who battles this, but from what I hear and observe around me, I am most definitely not alone in the age old game of COMPARISON. 

I have been aware of this monster for awhile. It’s usually a subtle, underlying issue for me, but recently it has been steering almost every thought and reaction I have. I even led a topic meeting in my Recovery group last week on the subject of comparing. And the final blow came yesterday when a co-worker and good friend listened to me whine a bit and eventually said, “Heather, you have GOT to stop comparing yourself to everyone. It’s going to kill you.” 

So, here I am to “reason things out” on paper. It’s not new or enlightened information. Just reminders to myself of how to do it differently and stay alert to the disease of and remedy for comparison. 

Comparison Kills Community. 

It destroys it at the most basic, macro-level of camaraderie: church, work, classrooms, social circles, etc.

When I am always evaluating whether I am better than or less than someone else, it is impossible to connect at any kind of non-threatening level. I am either the intimidator or the intimidated.

Comparing myself to others leads to a constant state of jealousy resulting in lack of celebration for the successes of others. If I am jealous, wanting what someone else has, I resent them. In a book called Courage to Change (p. 170) it says, “envy is just a hostile form of self-pity”. When I want what you have, or think I deserve it but am not getting it, it leads to ingratitude and puts a wedge between me and you. There is no chance of cultivating a healthy community when I compare. Doing so leads to “ladder-living”, where we are always above others or below. It’s an exhausting, anxious way to exist.

Comparison Kills Companionship. 

On a micro-level, comparing myself to others assures my loneliness. I isolate myself from others if I can’t handle hearing how good they have it or am afraid to share how I struggle. Having authentic relationships with my friends and families will never happen if my number one goal is image-management; preventing you from knowing the real me so I can keep up the facade of being OK.

You would think I would have learned this by now. The relationships I have with people now, versus when I was a pastor’s wife with a nicely packaged little family are 100% better than they were before. Most of that change, in my opinion, came as a result of sharing the ugly. It didn’t happen because I got more spiritual or skinny or successful. It happened because I lost my body and my hair and my church and some friends and often my mind. Then I shared it with the world. People who didn’t used to like me very much, liked me more. Friends who felt “different” from me realized I was a mess and loved me more intimately than before. 

When the subtle sin of wanting to be seen and seem better than others ruled my life, my relationships were shallow and guarded. It put a wall between me and those I loved. Comparison creates competition except in this case, if you win, you lose.

Comparison Kills Contentment.

This is perhaps the most dangerous “kill” of all. When I am constantly comparing myself, my body, my job, my writing, my kids, my spouse, my vacations, my activities, my popularity, my finances, my successes and failures, my soul cannot rest. When I compare what God has for me with what God has set in place for other people, my spirit is discontent. This discontent activates some of my other signature sins like worry, fear, pride, resentment, and control. 

There are no benefits that come from the dis-ease of Comparison.

Now, let’s talk for a minute about some solution, because I truly need the reminder. As I said earlier, this is not new information for me. It’s stuff I already know and say I believe, but in practicality, I struggle to implement. 

The remedy is obvious in many ways, but it is easy to do, easy not to do. I liken it to dieting. We all know what to eat and what not to eat (let’s not pretend we don’t know that an egg or vegetables wins out over a McDonald’s Happy Meal with a Diet Coke). The hard part is not in the knowing, it’s in the doing. It reminds me of Paul’s rant in Romans 7:  “I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” Anyone relate?

I desperately don’t want to compare, but the force is strong in me! It keeps pulling at me. The absolute only way I have every found to give me relief, is to find my COMPLETENESS in God. I do this in two ways: 1) By letting what God thinks of me determine how I feel about myself, and 2) Trusting that his plan/path for me is perfect and has nothing to do with the plan/path he has designed for you. 

In order to do this, I have to regularly (and by that I mean about 70,000 times a day-because me and Paul are kind of a mess!)  remind myself that my identity comes from God alone and what he thinks of me is the only voice that matters. Not mine. Not yours. Not the made-up voice I have put in your head about me. None. Of. It. Matters. Only what the voice of truth says to me should affect my serenity. 

*And just in case you are unsure of what God thinks of you, from what I have experienced, observed around me and read in the Bible (some of you may not be in to Bible reading, but honestly, that’s the number one place you can learn of God’s love for you ), He is smitten. He adores you. And unlike regular people, He loves you even when you are rotten. He pursues you and “gets” you like no one else does. He loves you without condition or performance (good or bad) and without limits or timelines. He longs for you to love him back, not because He is a desperate Being but because He is desperate for you to embrace His affections. His guidance. His Will. His grace.

I also have to continually surrender my Will (the selfish and short-sighted desires that tend to dominate my thoughts) to God and trust that His Will always turns out best, even if it doesn’t seem so or feel good at the moment. I have to practice what I have referred to as the WITTY Principle: “What Is That To You?” In other words, what other people do and think is none of my business because God has me on a special Heather-shaped road that belongs only to me. I need to stay in my lane and out of yours if I want to be content in my spirit. Comparing the potholes or freshly paved surface of our individual roads will kill us and steal our joy.

I am feeling like the above material could really take up an entire book if one really explored all the symptoms and remedies of the plague of comparison. And we didn’t even touch on what it looks like when we compare ourselves with ourselves! But for now, let’s just agree to practice the basics above and see how God heals. 

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The return of the “old normal” (somedaysoon)

Just as I was pondering how to begin a blog about my Unique Ego, a school bus passed my house. For those of you reading this on March 1, 2021, you will understand why this entry is about to take a turn. We are in what feels like the winding down of the Covid-19 Pandemic restrictions that have been protecting/squeezing/ suffocating us for the past year. 

Most days I am pretty confused about what month and year it is now, and what month and year it was when this devil came upon us. It all feels like the longest sci-fi movie ever,  with no distinct or satisfying ending.

Actually, I do remember when it first reared its head. I was with a friend on a trip to California last year around this same time. We were sitting on my parents’ patio soaking in one last morning of breakfast in the sun (remember, it was February, and I currently reside in Illinois 😬). My dad was reading the news on his iPad and the news was doing what it usually does; giving us bad and daunting news. It was about this virus that had killed hundreds in China and one case had been found in a nearby city in California. My friend was alarmed and anxious to get home as I blew it off and told her to “relax, it’s never going to affect us directly, here in the United States.”

Fast forward a year and pause for a moment of silence to contemplate how it has indeed “affected us directly, here in the United States”, but also around the entire world.

All that to say, my Unique Ego entry will have to wait. Today I want to talk about the school bus.

Photo by Louis on Pexels.com

When I saw the bus go by, with cars slowly trailing behind it since it had just stopped to pick up a couple kids, in masks, down the block, I felt tears coming to my eyes. This is the first bus I have seen pass by my picture window in almost a year. Not long after that, another bus passed by, a short one, possibly taking sweet little Special Ed Preschoolers to the school I used to work at? 

All at once I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation for this tiny glimpse of normalcy. And then, I wondered how long it would take me to start whining about sitting behind a school bus when I was in a hurry to get on with my daily errands. How long would it be until I forgot what it was like when we lived in the “upside down” world, longing for all that I took for granted before the pandemic?

It reminded me of when I had Leukemia. For 7 months I went through periods when my immune system would crash and even though I felt and looked slightly normal, I couldn’t go out of my house and if I did go somewhere (usually just to the cancer clinic to get bloodwork) I had to wear a mask and stay “socially distant” from people (I sincerely hate the combo of those two words). 

When I could finally go out, my friend Carol took me to the grocery store for an “outing” (please refer to my blog post “Why I hate you in a nutshell” and you would have thought I was going to the Caribbean. I was dressed up and even wore makeup and a wig! At that time, I was the only one wearing a mask and I felt a little conspicuous, but it didn’t squelch the sheer pleasure and immense thankfulness I felt to be doing “normal” life stuff. The stuff I used to either complain about or go through mindlessly without any acknowledgement of the privilege of being in a crowded grocery story. I thought I would never forget the bliss of that experience. I was sure I would never again lose perspective or take the simple things of life for granted. 

And I didn’t.

For at least 6 months. That’s when my treatments ended and I was thrust back in to real life with real work pressures and social and familial expectations. It wasn’t long before I started complaining about the lines at the grocery store and and dreaded running errands. Though my body had been ravaged by cancer and disease and I looked like a 100 yr old women, it wasn’t long before my mind shifted from being grateful to God about being rescued from death to being disappointed and dissatisfied with my appearance. 

I could go on and on about the ways my perspective has slipped since “God and Heather kickedleukemiainthebutt”. But that’s just about me. Let’s bring you into the mix.

My hunch is that “it won’t be long” for you either. Unless you are mindful to be grateful. 

Unless you are mindful to be grateful, your perspective about how happy you are that things are heading back to normal will start to slip. 

Some day soon you will be in a crowded place with long lines and no elbow room and sweaty smelly people. You won’t have a mask to shield the smell and since you don’t have to stand 6 feet apart you will feel a little claustrophobic. And you might be tempted to whine a little.

Someday soon you will get to go back to your kids sporting events inside a gym, and you will find yourself irritated that you can’t find a parking place and there’s nowhere to sit. 

Someday soon you will get to go back to the office/campus/classroom. You will have to get yourself and/or your kids out of bed and put on actual clothes and comb your hair and, oh dear, get in the car and drive instead of staggering to the computer to get everyone’s day started. And there’s a good chance you will express the hassle of it all and be a smidge grouchy to one another over it.

Some day soon you will sit in some traffic on roads that used to be abandoned and sparse because everyone was working/schooling/shopping/partying/zooming/churching from home.

The somedaysoon-ness of life eventually comes for all of us. Whether it’s a world-wide pandemic or something specific that has rocked your whole-wide-world.

Some of you are already there. The return of the  “old normal” you have been anticipating for so long has already become a burden. A drudgery. A chore. A “have to” rather than a “get to”. 

But it doesn’t have to be so. The only solution I have found for this way of thinking, the only remedy for this disease of entitlement, is to be mindful to be grateful.

Colossians 4:2 probably says it better: “Be watchful and thankful”. Or I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for the is God’s will for you.” Author Sarah Young combines these verses to help us hear God saying to us: “A grateful heart protects you from negative thinking. Thankfulness enables you to see the abundance I shower upon you daily…in everything give thanks, for this is my will for you.”

Be mindful to be grateful. Be watchful and thankful. Don’t let the school bus pass by your window without shedding a tear or two for what God has brought you through. 

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Home Alone

I was ready for it in August of 2020. I had been vacillating between dread and exhilaration about the fact that I would be an official Empty Nester when my son and daughter went off to college out of state.

I knew I would miss them terribly, but had done the emotional prepping and dreaming about what my “new life” would be like when it was just me and my husband (for whom I was feeling pre-sorry,  knowing that my emotions would be sort of chaotic and he would be the only one left to deal with me!). But it was time. I was as ready as I could be. My youngest two were moving on simultaneously to new adventures.

That was my plan. God had different plans, and how dare He! 😉

Because of Covid, what was supposed to be a fresh new beginning for all of us, turned in to a stale new beginning of isolation and disappointment and mundaneness. We made the best of it, but none of what we had planned out came to fruition. It was a shock to all of our systems. We struggled to adapt to the new plan, which forced us to grind it out for the next 7 months.

Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have them home, but not at the expense of their dreams and to be honest, I had really been looking forward to only cooking for two!

Fast forward to today, February 2nd, 2021. It’s been about 3 weeks since I dropped Emma off to live and do on-line school in California. A month before that, Bennett moved down the street and took his cat with him. All of a sudden, I got what I thought I wanted, and because it happened so fast, I was slightly ill-prepared this time around.

I am just now beginning to get used to it. I am just now allowing myself to lean in to it.  For awhile I would walk past Emma’s room each morning and cry a little. She is about 1800 miles away and it feels strange. At least I get to hug Bennett once a week or so since he comes for dinner or to watch sports with his dad. 

The other day I was at work and had the realization that no one needs me for anything until about 6:30 at night–Every. Single. Night.  No one is asking “what’s for dinner?”  How could this be? I have spent 24 years tending to the needs/wants of my children. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself!

Another thought that has come to me lately, is: “I made it!”. I managed to raise 3 children without letting them get maimed (aside from a slew of broken arms) or hit by a car or kidnapped by a stranger or having to call poison control. They managed to survive on a steady diet of mac-and-cheese and hot dogs as children without getting scurvy. Though they don’t always follow my rules or my plan or find me all that wise, we seem to be able to hang out and still love/like/tolerate (depending on the day) each other. All of these are things I do not take for granted and know that any success I have had in parenting has little to do with me and everything to do with God working in spite of me.

I am, however, keenly aware of something a wise older mom told me once when I was exasperated with the daily task of chasing small children around: “When they are little they have little problems and when they are big, they have big problems.” At the time, I felt like I would have traded one of my kidneys for a big problem that didn’t wake me up crying in the middle of the night!

I now know of this phenomenon of which she spoke. If I am not careful, I can worry myself to death about these out-of-the-house children. Will they brush their teeth, bathe, or remember to go to the dentist? Will they eat a vegetable or some fruit if I don’t buy it or remind them? Will they ever wash their underwear or sheets? Do they even know how to boil water or peel their own apple? Or on the more serious side, will they ever go to church or pray or find a career or a wife/husband or fulfillment in their inner selves? I have found myself obsessing about such questions as any mom may be tempted to do. But I am learning a better way. A prayer that keeps me sane and keeps me from interfering and trying to control the lives of children that no longer live under my supervision. As much as I want certain things for my children, I have to learn to let them go and let God take care of them. He knows what’s best for them. 

God has kids, not grandkids. In other words, He is developing his own relationship with my kids outside of me. He doesn’t have to go through me to get to them or vice-versa. I am on the outside looking in. My job now is much more simple; love them and trust God with them.

Any time I begin to feel anxious or think fearful thoughts about my kids (or anything, for that matter), I say, often out loud: “Oh Jesus. I surrender Berkeley, Emma, Bennett, my job, my marriage, my blog, etc. to You. Take care of everything.” And then I move on with my day. It’s a humble turning over of matters that are out of my control and problems that do not belong to me.

Most of you have probably seen the famous Christmas movie, Home Alone. In the midst of his family preparing to leave for Paris, Young Macaulay Culkin gets left behind. When he finally realizes he is all alone in his house, he is sad. At first. And then, as he thinks about the stress and chaos of what life was like with everyone home, a sneaky, knowing smile takes over his face and he starts running around the house doing all the things he couldn’t do under the watchful eye of his parents or siblings.

That’s a pretty good description of the transition I am feeling. At first, I would cry and sort of wander around my house aimlessly. I felt sorry for myself and wondered what in the world I was going to do with myself now that I didn’t have to “take care” of anyone. 

But now, well, I have to admit, I am a little more like the kid who is free to run around the house doing whatever he wants! A smile is starting to creep across my face and the empty, sad sensation is slowly blooming into hope and anticipation of what this new freedom means. 

All I know, is that God will make it into something beautiful if I continue to pray, “Oh Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.”

For now, I think I might just take a nap in the middle of the day and have cereal for dinner. Because I can. 🙃

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Village People

We are Village People. And not just because pretty much every person in America and beyond knows the lyrics and could bust out the choreography to the legendary song “YMCA”.  This description of humanity in Jennie Allen’s book (“Get Out of Your Head”) has been floating around in my mind for weeks. It explains why I feel so unsettled–why I think a lot of us feel “not quite right” in our World these days–these past months. Unbelievable–almost this past year.

When the pandemic hit, were scattered from our villages. They were pillaged and plundered by Covid and in effort to stay safe, we went into hiding. Some of us didn’t mind this, at first. We were frightened and huddled in our spaces for protection. Some were lucky (at least it seemed so at first) to be quarantined with their family. Others, for a plethora of reasons, were forced to isolate even from ones they loved so everyone could remain safe. 

After months of this retreating, even those sequestered with their families started to get a little Antsy. The quality time and permission to be “home alone” together started to lose its novelty.

I regularly pray for those who have been quarantined with a critical, harmful, abusive spouse or mother or father. My heart aches for parents with children who need intense structure and instruction outside of the home and can’t get it.  Many have been forced into roles that they are not equipped for. The stress levels and daily challenges of even your average children, cooped up and home schooled by parents with full time jobs are off the charts.

I know I am not saying anything we don’t all know and have whined about for months. All of us have dozens of examples of how this time has changed their lives forever. But here is why I think it has been so heavy on us, or at least on me: I believe we were created to be Village People.

We are not meant to live in isolation. God created us for community. For all the good, bad and ugly of it, community is still what our heart beats for. Love and affection and being able to touch, caress, hug, or pat the back of another human being is something we all need.

Many of us forget how badly we need it until it happens; some renegade ignores the rules and gives us a big bear hug or god-forbid, shakes or squeezes our bare hand.

The other day I had to get my picture taken for something at work–without a mask. It took me about 10 minutes because I could not form my mouth into a smile that didn’t look forced or creepy. It disturbed me for days. I finally realized it was because my muscles had forgotten how to form a smile. I spend days with a mask on in public places with a zombie-like gaze, not speaking to or giving that little awkward smirk we give to strangers as we pass them at stores and coffee shops. I am just blank under my mask. I think I might be getting frown lines!!

Now that things seem to be opening up a little more, I hear talk about how people are going to continue working from home or offices, deciding to just shut their doors and do everything online. This makes me sick to my stomach. Why? Because we are Village People. And Village people do life in their Village–in person. Around the fire they reason things out and laugh and are physically present with one another. 

Social media and Zoom provide false intimacy. We have taken our hiding and image management to a whole different level! How many of you have done a Zoom meeting while in the bathroom or half dressed or in bed with your pretty picture frozen on the screen (I am raising my hand!). When I am on a zoom meeting my mind is half there, if I am lucky, and half on my actual surroundings. Usually I am multi-tasking during it and am not “present”. 

Sure, I have enjoyed some mornings watching church from my living room. But what about the desperate soul who needs us to be Jesus’ actual hands and feet? They are not in my living room. And since I barely know what day it is most of the time, I forget to even “go” to church at all! All this isolation and church online is making us even more self absorbed and narcissistic than we already are.  Anyone can be loving, patient, kind and compassionate when there are no real people to bump up against.

OK, I feel like I am ranting now. That is not my intention. In review, I just deleted approximately 7 explanation points from that last paragraph. Didn’t want you to feel like I was yelling at you. But I am a little desperate, pleading with you to get back to your Villages as soon as it is safe to do so. This was a detour for our world, and as soon as humanly and safely possible, please get back to real-life living and loving and embracing each other. When you can get rid of your mask, smile like you did after you first fell in love; for days and days and days for apparent reason.

Your Villages may need some mending and rebuilding and restructuring when you return. Don’t despair. Be creative and determined to restore the places you were abruptly forced to abandon. But don’t give up. Don’t believe the lie that you can do life from home from now on. 

The world needs real community. You need it and it needs you. We are Village People. 

Take back your Villages. 

Greed in disguise

I need to get out of my head. I am so self absorbed right now-worrying about what others think of me to the point of obsession. Also, and largely, beating myself up for a variety of shortcomings. I never feel like I am doing enough. I am not spiritual enough, not thin enough, not selling enough houses or writing enough blogs or investing enough time in my relationships with my kids, my spouse, my church. I can’t seem to stick to my diet for more than a week and feel like a failure. I can’t seem to say no to wine or desserts, especially if I am stressing about all the aforementioned areas. I just can’t seem to relax and enjoy myself. Like, literally enjoy “me”. The Me who I am today, not who wish I could be in the future or the Me from the past that I wish I still was.  This lack of satisfaction with what God has given me, what I have in my hand today, is making me sick. It dawned on me that it is a sneaky form of greed. So, even though this will cause me to continue down this path of negative self-analysis, I want to explore the concept for a minute so I can get to the roots of what needs to be weeded out.

As a definition, Greed is defined as an insatiable desire for more. It is most commonly used with money, possessions or food, but can be applied to anything we desire in excess. Psychology Today says the results of wanting more and more “has an unpleasant effect on our inner emotional lives.”   Another site points out that “greed eats up a person so that s/he is wasted away due to the heat of the bad traits it makes one develop such as selfishness, anger, jealousy and unhealthy competition. It sucks up every strand of happiness and results in death (www.researchgate.net).  No matter where you find greed defined, it always indicates an intense and selfish desire for more. 

So, this ravenous feeling swirling around in me to be more of what I am today, is not as innocent as what I have named it. It’s not just me having goals or dreams. Unfortunately, it’s more about, well, more. It’s about dissatisfaction and ingratitude for what God has provided for me today; about what he has done in me to make who I am today.  

Greed causes me to write a book and the day it’s published, beat myself up mentally for not being on the best sellers list. It causes me to sell the most expensive house I have ever sold and the next week whine because I can’t seem to sell anything. And giving myself the benefit of the doubt about waiting a whole week before I start the whining is pretty generous! When I lose 5 pounds I am frustrated because I really want to lose 10. 

Photo by Andrew Wilus on Pexels.com

These are the superficial examples. But it goes much deeper than the external successes/failures. I desire to be a trusting, faith-filled, positive, joyful, peace-giving, God-fearing woman. But instead of reflecting on any progress I have made in these areas, I mostly beat myself up for not being “more” of them. 

I understand that it is good to be always growing and morphing, but not at the expense of our ability to acknowledge that who we are today is exactly where we are supposed to be today and we can be grateful to God for that.

There is a difference between growth and greed. That difference is gratitude. Gratitude for where we have been and who we are and what we have this day. 

Can I tell you a secret? I feel sorry for God sometimes. If he were human like me, he would probably feel like He just can’t win. I ask, beg and plead for him to alleviate my emotional pain or remedy an issue that is preoccupying my mind and making me sick with worry. The waiting for it feels excruciatingly long. I convince myself that when and if he answers (read: clears up the situation and makes it go in my favor) I will be content. 

Then, He answers in a way that solves the problem. I am grateful for about 2 seconds, if I acknowledge His part at all, and then immediately move on to the next problem that needs my attention. There is little, if any, pause for celebration and adoration and enjoying the gift of the solution. I simply find something new to fret about or implore him to address for me.

My greedy little heart wants more. More from Him. More from others. More from life. I never seem to have enough of all of it.

Like I said earlier, I have been dressing up my greed in different outfits that look more like ambition, confidence and fervor for reaching my goals or becoming a better “Christian”. But it’s time to call it what it is and confess and surrender it to God, the only one worthy of my thirst and longing for more and more and more.

“As the deer pants for water so may my soul pants for you, Oh Lord.” Psalm 42:1

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm. 63:1

“For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9

Go. Stay. (A note to my mom)

Well. It’s done. My parents sold their home in Illinois (an hour away from me) and are moving to California permanently. No offense to my dad, who I respect and love and will miss like crazy, but I want to take a few minutes to unpack my feelings about my mom moving 1,712 miles away from me.

The mature, God-fearing, blogger/writer in me, who desires to provide healing and perspective for people who are sad, fearful, worried, and desperate for a word of hope, has some things to say to my mom. First of all, “go”. Go and embrace it. I know you have lived in Illinois for 22 years and have sweet, loyal and hilarious friends, but they will always be in your life. 

You are the only woman I know who has never lived in any state longer than 5 years after you got married, yet still fly, on a regular basis, to Oregon, Washington and California to visit friends where you used to live. Your servant heart and love for God lead you to volunteer and join Bible studies everywhere you went, resulting in quick, lasting and solid relationships with women. You didn’t pout, at least for very long, and wait for everyone to notice the new girl. You jumped in and made fast friends wherever life dropped you. 

You still text and call and send birthday cards to each other.  Who does that? I have a terrible propensity towards “out of sight out of mind” so I am scared to death that my friends might think I have died if I move away! Even though the Illinois girls will miss you, I have no doubt you will maintain the bond you have built here.

As for me and my family, particularly Emma, we bless you and give you “permission” to go and be happy about it. I know I have given you a hard time about going, but I am grateful, as some have reminded me to be, that I have had you here for 20 plus years and now it’s time for you to share yourself with my siblings in California. They need you too, after all. Who wouldn’t need a mom like you? 

I trust God will take care of my heart and soothe the sad ache I feel when I realize I can’t just drive an hour to get a hug and watch movies until midnight. 

It’s OK, mom. I will be OK. You will be OK too.  I am happy for you and excited for what life adventures God has for you and dad as you move on from here. 

DEEP BREATHING. DEEP BREATHING. DON’T CRY. DEEP BREATHING. DEEP BREATHING. DON’T CRY. DON’T CRY DON’T CRY. 

Now, the bratty, self-centered, “strong-willed child” child in me also has a few things to say about this move to California:

“Stay!!”

Don’t you want to stay and live with me? I will make you a room! We can kayak and play pickleball and hike and shop and eat our way around town. We can organize and clean and cook because I hate doing all of those things, but you always make it more bearable and even fun when we do it together. When I have to work and show houses, you can ride with me and be my navigator. 

Who is going to get the impossible stains out of our clothes or sew on buttons or hem our pants? You can’t really expect me to be a grown up and do it myself, can you?!

And clothes shopping? Forget about it. You always find clothes for me at your second hand store and I just wear them because A, I am too lazy to shop for myself and B, I am too cheap to buy them myself. My fashion future is very bleak.

Who is Emma going to giggle with at possibly the weirdest inside jokes and observations and take her on shopping adventures?

And omygosh, who will rub my feet. My feeeeet! This is a longstanding tradition (that I know you just love) that no one else can, or is willing, to do. 

I will miss deciding on a whim to come up and spend the weekend at your house, playing cards and fitting in more activity in 24 hours that any other 2 women on the planet. 

You serve and love without thought for yourself. The time you spent with me at the hospital when I had Leukemia almost, but not quite, makes me wish we could go back. Maybe just a nice little hospital stay, minus the Leukemia part. I saw so many patients who had families that just added to the stress of having cancer. You were a bright spot to not only me, but the nurses who came in our room. And of course, they all wanted to come in our room because you and Emma had decorated it with white Christmas lights and party streamers.

Maybe that’s the best way to say it: doing life with you is like having a perpetual party. Your faith, your outlook, your twisted sense of humor, make everyday life lighter. Brighter. Better.

So, even though my refrain about you moving, which I have reiterated about a thousand times the past few months, has been, “this is stupid”, I know it’s time to buck up and shut up and let you go with a more graceful sendoff.

We have a unique and intimate momma-daughter friendship that cannot be threatened or thwarted by mere miles. You are embedded in my spirit and cherished in my heart.

So, even though you “go”,

You “stay”. 

I love you momma. 

Tips for Dodger fans from the book of James

Shhhh. I am going to have to sneak to write this because this subject has been strictly forbidden in our household. Even if you are not a baseball fan, or, more importantly, Dodger fan like my husband has been from the womb, you will no doubt feel the sting of this replay.

In the 9th inning of the 2020 World Series game 4 the Dodgers were beating the Rays 7-6 with 2 outs. Seemed like a slam-dunk (even thought that is more of a basketball-y word🙃) for the Dodgers. The batter was not one that Dodger fans were particularly concerned about. He was average and not too much of a threat. We were already celebrating in our little hearts.

What happened next caused me to awake the next morning wondering if I had dreamt the whole thing. It was like a clip from “The Bad News Bears” (Anyone remember that movie? Look it up!)  The hitter who no one was afraid of defied the odds and cracked one over the shortstops head. The right fielder fumbled the catch, wasting a couple of seconds. One runner had already scored to tie the game. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it got far worse. The right fielder threw it home to the catcher who was poised, blocking the plate from the runner who was rounding 3rd. As the runner flew past 3rd, he tripped and literally fell to the ground. At that moment the ball reached the catcher who spun his glove around, causing the ball to shoot out of his glove and roll away. The runner, who thought he was done for, got a second chance. He jumped up and plowed toward home to win the game 8-6. This all happened in about 20 seconds. 

Getty Images

I was in the kitchen and heard, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!” Then, silence. A long, scary silence. 

We are still stunned 2 days later. How could something that seemed so right go so wrong so quickly?

I am studying the book of James (James was the brother of Jesus, in case you care) so naturally, my head went to one of the lessons I am trying to learn from his teaching. Here is the lesson from James 4:13-17: 

You are not God. It’s arrogant to think you know what will happen in the future. Make plans but hold them loosely because God’s plans for you may not match your small, human-minded plans. His are better. Always say, “if it’s God’s will I will do this or that” and then lean in to the miracles he puts in your path that would have never crossed your mind. Remember that sometimes unwanted circumstances thwart your plans, but God will not abandon you. He will walk through you in those times.

And never ever trick yourself into thinking that you know the ending. Never ever assume that the game is over until it’s over.

That goes for the good and the bad.

Just when you think it’s safe to assume you know what’s coming, you can be assured that you will be surprised — which sounds terrifying to me at first, until I realize it frees me up to live in the moment and cherish it for what it has to offer. I can trust God with the future and know he will walk me through whatever comes my way. I have had a bit of personal experience in this, in the small stuff as well as the biggies like cancer and the family disease of addiction. 

I have read the passage in James dozens of times over the years. Back in college, when my brain was sharper, I actually memorized the entire five-chapter book of James. I have decided to take this year to study and actually ask God to help me live out the principles of the very practical book — to make them a part of my daily walk, not just a script in my head. 

I mean, who better to learn from than from someone who actually grew up with Jesus in the same house! On a side note, think about that for a minute. No pressure or opportunity for resentment there! And you thought it was rough being compared to your siblings!

The book of James is where many of the 12 Steps from Recovery Groups originated. Simple and straightforward ways to live life on life’s terms. Simple, but not easy to implement, especially when our ego gets in the way. When we forget that we are not God and do not know the future. 

I have seen this principle played out in many areas of my life. The “just when you think” principle. …just when you think you will never change, get a job, find a mate, be free of addiction, rage, anxiety, depression. …just when you think your marriage is done for, your kids will never leave home or never come back. 

Just when you think God can’t be trusted and doesn’t see or hear you, he sends a sign: a new friend, a kind word, an encouraging text from an old friend, a bible verse, a rainbow, a feather or a bee (more on that later…). 

I always wondered about the last sentence of this set of verses. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the message: 

“So, you know the right thing that you ought to do. But if you know that and you do not do the right thing, then you have done a wrong thing.”

Huh? That seemed totally off in left field until today — no dig at that poor Dodger outfielder intended! I think James finished up with that last verse to point us back to the present and living out our walk with God.

The only opportunity we have to serve and love others is right now. So, if you know that but are too busy planning for the future or are always telling yourself that you will “do it tomorrow, next week or sometime in the future” but never actually do it (call that friend, serve the poor, share your story or your stuff, etc), you are sinning.

Which is quite an indictment when we usually think of “sinning” as the bad stuff we do. James tells us that if you know what you should do but don’t do it you are sinning. He strongly urges us to live knowing tomorrow may never come. Is your side of the street clean? Would you be ready if tomorrow doesn’t come? Feel free to make plans, but hold them loosely and make the most of today. God is God, and thank God almighty, you are not. 

Here’s a worthwhile mantra for today and maybe everyday:

Hold it all loosely

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