I will always remember her best in the kitchen, quietly moving from one dish to the next, everything expertly timed. Butter beans, corn bread, turkey, potatoes. Oh the potatoes. I can remember one meal where she made three different kinds of potatoes...hash brown casserole, mashed, and potato salad...just because one of us had said we liked those best. She did that with pies, too. Everyone always got to eat their favorite pie at MeeMee's house, even if we all came at the same time. Cherry for Melodie and my cousin Britt, chocolate for Amy, apple for me.The kitchen was her comfort zone. It was the most natural expression of her love for us. And we ate it up...literally.
MeeMee has always been old to me. Nobody would love hearing that, but it's true. When you're a kid, grandparents just seem old. (Sorry mom and dad...I'm afraid that means my kids think of you as old....even if you don't, and even if I don't. They're wrong, though. You're still young bucks!). Maybe that's why it has been such a surprise in these last couple of years to see her health deteriorate and her mind begin to go. I guess I had been lulled into thinking that, "this is what old looks like." This grandmother who expertly prepares meals for the whole family and takes us to church, introducing us to all her friends. But things have started to change. She's 95 after all. She has trouble getting out. Going to church is difficult. Going to the store seems impossible. Getting out of her chair or out of her bed is easier with someone else there to provide a steady hand and an extra push. And she is not happy about it.
I can't blame her. There is so much about this that is not fun...for anyone. The big picture feels daunting and overwhelming and sad. But, if you squint a little, you can see that there is grace in growing old. Those of us close to her are reminded, in the midst of all she cannot do right now, of when she did it all. It sharpens our memories of her and makes us grateful for all she gave us. And if we can embrace it, there is something sweet about the stillness of her life. There is no rush to move forward for MeeMee. There is only today. And yesterday. And so there is a lot of remembering, of listening to old stories, the same ones told over and over. And a lot of just sitting together. There is grace in remembering that a person's value remains intact, even when the most they can do is just sit with you. There's good in remembering how to just be with someone without requiring anything. That is grace.
In the midst of it all, we are also learning to listen to what is underneath her words of bitterness or despair and to love her by answering the questions she is truly asking. "Is this too much to ask of you?" and "Am I still valuable?" My parents and my aunt and uncle have taken the brunt of her frustrations, and continue to answer, "We love you. We want to care for you." This is grace.
When I talk to her on the phone, MeeMee often says to me, "I don't know why God still has me here on this earth." I understand her sentiment. My PaPa went to be with the Lord seven years ago. It has been a lonely seven years. She usually finishes by saying, "I guess He knows best, though. There must be some reason." And I know she's right. There may be a whole host of reasons. I know at least one of them, though, is that she's here for us. She's here to teach us about grace. And we can all stand to settle in and learn a little more about that.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I love this. And she is more eloquent than I, so there's no need for me to expound on her four and half minute speech. One of my many favorite lines, "...I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy." Oh friends...may we understand beauty better. For ourselves. For our daughters. May we not be seduced anymore.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Bella has been playing basketball this winter. It has been so fun to watch her do something all on her own and enjoy it. She has gotten pretty good at dribbling and shooting and it is the most adorable thing ever to hear her yell at her teammates, “I’m open!”
It’s been really good for her to be on this team. On the first day of practice, she was in tears in the first three minutes. The first drill was to dribble the ball around the court. She must have bounced that ball on her shoe 14 times and it went flying across the room every time. When she got back to the starting place, she just broke down. And I wanted to run over and rescue her. I wanted to make sure, in that moment, that she felt known and loved and every bit of the amazing little girl that she is, even if she wasn't great at dribbling. But Loren gave me a look. I know that look. It’s a look that says, “Let her fail a little. Let her figure it out. Let someone else speak into her life. This is good for her.” Her coach walked over and gave her a hug and then they talked for a minute. Bella told me later that she said, “You know, Bella, everyone is just learning here. Nobody expects you to do it all perfectly. We’re gonna learn together.” Words of life for my little one.
When I watch her now, eight weeks later, I can see all the ways that she has grown. Sure, she’s gotten better at the game, but I can see the ways most don’t know about. I know how important it is that she has learned to go for the shot, even if she doesn't always make a basket, because I know she struggles with a desire to never disappoint anyone. Though it may seem strange, I love watching her dribble down the court, accidentally bouncing the ball off her shoe, and just running after it, picking it up and continuing on with a smile. Because laughing when you make a mistake like that means that you know those kinds of mistakes aren't who you are. They’re just mistakes. In basketball. And we don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously.
You know what else? Not once, has one of her teammates been annoyed with anyone who made a mistake on the team. They have been the most gracious little 1st and 2nd graders. And I have loved watching her settle into the freedom of that grace. That kind of grace makes you excited to try something new instead of fearful. It lets you giggle when you make a mistake instead of dissolving into tears. And it has been such a gift to my little girl.
Her coaches are another gift. I love that they ask each member of the team what the best part of their week was. Then they ask if everyone is doing well in school, if everyone is obeying their parents and staying out of trouble. They begin each practice by reminding these kids, in subtle ways, that their whole life matters, not just how they do on a basketball court. They remind them that their teammates are other kids just like them. This is little kid sports at its best and I’m one grateful Mama.
Bella has loved playing basketball, but I don't really think it's the sport she's crazy about. Last week after her game, she said to me all sing-songy, “I love basketball so much. It’s so fun!” And I told her that I was so glad! Because I love seeing her enjoy herself, and because I fully understand what a gift it is for her to be able to love something, even when it is a challenge for her. Then I asked if she thought she wanted to play again next year. “Oh yeah…for sure, Mom,” she said. And I said, “Well, what if you aren't on the same team as Lilly (one of her best friends in the whole world). “Oh…probably not then,” she said. What?!? But, I should have known. Bella may throw herself into something and enjoy herself silly while doing it, but that something has always only been as good as the friends that are doing it with her. That’s what matters most to her. I love that about her. And really, what fun is bouncing the ball off your toe and sending it flying, if your friend isn't there to giggle with you about it?
Bella is going to be tall. She's already tall. But, it remains to be seen if God equipped her with such height in order play down low under a basketball goal, rebounding easily over those other shorties and laying it up nice and soft for two more points. I know why he equipped her with such a big heart, though. And as she lives into all he has planned for her, my prayer is that what she is learning in basketball translates into the rest of her life as well. That she would know grace in such a way that it would give her the freedom to take risks. That she would experience that same deep grace when she fails. That she would know that her whole life matters, not just a moment. And I hope that she continues to believe that relationships are much more important than all we can accomplish.
If she’s on a basketball court someday, you can bet I’ll be there to cheer her on. But in life, there are bigger fish to fry. And I pray I’ll get to be there for those, too. Encouraging, cheering, praying, giggling, and reminding her that grace isn't just her middle name. It's a way of life. The ONLY way to life. And we'll be thankful together for the friends that come alongside us and make everything a whole lot more fun.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
I write so that I will remember. I am a forgetful person. Not just birthdays and directions and the name of the person I met 5 minutes ago, though I forget all of these things all too often. I forget what God has said. I forget, in the light, what he said to me in the dark. And I forget in the dark, what he has said to me in the light. And so I need a reminder.
I’m a stay at home mom, with 2 kids in school and 4 year old at home. She is old enough to have given up naps but young enough, and squirrelly enough that she needs to be watched all the time, engaged all the time or bad things happen. Irrevocable things with permanent markers and scissors. So, I spend the large majority of my time playing hide and seek and memory, reading books and playing a game called freeze (a game she invented that is a lot like freeze tag…though she swears they are different and plus in this one you freeze each other with fake guns, so she’s probably right). I get almost nothing else done.
I also lead a ministry for teen moms called YoungLives. We walk alongside teen moms, living life with them and earning the right to be heard as we share the gospel with them. It’s challenging and time consuming and transformation happens slowly. So, so slowly.
And so, as such, I have been struggling hard with value. It’s not a new struggle with me. But, this time, the wound seems deeper because I thought it was gone. I thought I had licked it.
But Satan is like a crouching lion. He is roaming around and ready to pounce and he is the Father of Lies. Lies like… “you are not that valuable” and, my current favorite… “you should try and do something to make yourself more special.” I can usually handle, “you are not that valuable” because it just sounds like a lie to me. I can usually wave that one off. Several scriptures flood my mind and shield me from its grabby hands. But, “you should try and do something to make yourself more special?” That sounds like it could be true. I mean, maybe I should do more. And facebook and blogs and our ability to see all that everyone else is doing can add fuel to the fire. As much as I love some of those witty blogs that encourage us to more, sometimes they can feel like a scissor kick to the gut. I mean, some days, when that adorable 4 year old decides to fingerpaint on her sister’s bed with lotion and toothpaste (yep…it’s happened) I feel maxed out just being at home. Getting the floors mopped seems a distant dream, so I know meaningful wisdom isn’t gonna flow from my fingertips and I’m certainly not starting a non-profit that will change the world anytime soon. How can I do any more?
I’ve struggled often with Proverbs 31. I mean, who was this gal? How did she get all this crap done? And why, why is there a whole 21 verses in the bible dedicated to touting the accomplishments of this woman who obviously had perfect kids, a wacked out Circadian rhythm (who rises while it is still night?!) and a small sweat shop in the back of her house where the fine linen for her bed coverings and the scarlet clothes for her household were made.
And so it startled me, as I lay on my bed praying one night, confessing to the Lord that I had believed the lies and asking him to teach me the truth, that Proverbs 31 came to mind. “I am hearing in my head, Lord, that I need to do something to make myself more special. But I want to hear what YOU say?” I said. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,” came the answer in my spirit. “I do, Lord. I love you, and your holiness and sovereignty both thrills me and scares the whooey out of me.” “I know,” he said. And that was all.
As I lay there and let it sink in, it resonated in the deep places. And also, just like that, I made my peace with the Proverbs 31 woman. Because it’s not that there aren't things to do. We are called to live out our faith. To experience and bring the Kingdom of God to earth. There is work involved. But the work isn't what makes us special. It isn't what made her special. Her value was directly linked to her relationship with the Lord. Her fear of the Lord informed her work, her wisdom, her desire to care for others, her ability to laugh at the days to come. Her fear of the Lord was the thing worthy of praise. Everything else comes out of that. Whatever it is, whatever we are called to, however big or small it is, begins and ends with knowing Christ. Our value is firmly fixed in Him, so knowing Him is the greatest pursuit we could ever undertake.
So, my struggle has magically disappeared, right? Wrong. Satan isn't put aside so easily. And he has continued to do everything he can to steer me away from that truth. So, I am battling hard. The fiery darts he throws sometimes cause me to retreat. He knows just where my scars are and his aim is true.
But the greater truth, the one I learned in the dark, remains. And I am learning to remember. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is my shield of faith, my belt of truth, my helmet of salvation. And in beautifully divine moments of clarity, I even find myself able to laugh at the days to come.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Picking jello up off of the kitchen floor with my bare hands is not what I signed up for when I decided to become a mother. But I’d have to say it’s not even close to the grossest thing I’ve done. Not even the grossest thing I’ve picked up off the kitchen floor. Actually, I don’t want to talk about my kitchen floor anymore. It is NEVER clean, not even seconds after I mop it, and the thought of it makes me shudder. Clean floors were just one of the minor sacrifices I made when I became a mother. The major ones are a lot messier than my floor, and can’t be remedied with bleach and a little elbow grease.
We go bravely into motherhood, armed with only a vague inkling of all that we will be asked to do. It seems better that way. After all, nobody wants to sit around at baby showers and tell of the shameful amount of times we have thrown up a little in our mouths because of something the darling child in our family photos has done. Some things are better as a surprise.
But some things aren’t. And no one sits around at baby showers talking about all the ways that those little ones will break your heart. But maybe they should. Oh, we know it won’t be rosy, chocolate-covered kisses all the time. We aren’t that naïve. But we also aren’t expecting the feelings of hopelessness or irrational anger, the tears. We aren’t ready for the feelings of inadequacy about our ability to do the very thing we hoped and prayed that we would be able to do. It can feel, at times, like we are barely hanging on. And there is deep shame buried at the bottom that feeling. And the feeling that we are alone in this. That no one else feels this way.
And that’s why we don’t share it, with new moms or anyone else. That’s why we skirt around the edges of our frustrations with our kids and say things to our friends like, “Billy is really giving me a run for my money lately…I just don’t know what I am going to do with Sally…Jack is going through a rough phase right now,” instead of what we want to say, which is, “I feel like I am drowning…I feel so angry sometimes that it makes me afraid…I feel like I cannot do all that I need to do….I am really hurting.” Instead we offer up more palatable versions of our pain, certain that the truth would be too much to ask of our people.
And this isn’t just true in parenting. Obviously. We don’t tend to share about our other struggles…in our marriage, in ministry, in every day life because we are certain someone else is worse off than us. That’s definitely true. That someone else might judge us. That might be true. That we shouldn’t burden someone else with our problems. That’s not true. In fact, that’s the opposite of true.
That’s a lie.
The truth is, we are meant to bear each other’s burdens. (Hello, Galatians 6:2… “but I’d rather be the burden bearer…not the burdener,” you say. Tough luck, sista. We’re both.) When we look each other in the eyes and speak about the painful truths of life, and when we hear and receive as someone offers us the good and deeper truths of the Gospel, we minister to each other. We remind each other that we are not alone, in our pain or in the grace that is enough to cover it. We remind each other that we are not made for this world. We remind each other that Christ lives in us, is working in us, for our good. Both of us. Ministering to each other. Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Recently, Loren gave a sermon at church about living within the New Covenant. He talked about how, as the church, we are to be an example of New Covenant living with each other. Part of that means this offering of grace to one another…that we represent Christ as we say, out loud, to each other, “you are not alone…you are loved…you are forgiven…God is working good in you.” Big tears well up in my eyes even as I write this, because as he spoke I felt a deep “yes” well up in my soul at the thought of fellow believers speaking Christ’s truth over me. Out loud. Reminding me of what is most true.
In this way, the Church becomes the New Covenant version of altars. We are set up in people’s lives to be reminders of the truth. We are the BODY OF CHRIST, anointing each other with this truth and with love and peace and forgiveness. His voice, speaking words that heal and sustain and move us forward in love. His hands, reaching out to hug. His feet, walking alongside, making certain we know we are not alone.
A dear friend did this for me last week and it was powerful. The hope of Christ in her, speaking His words over me. “You are not alone…His yoke is easy and His burden is light.” My husband did this for me two weeks ago when I had an especially hard parenting day. “You are forgiven…God loves you so much.” On either of those days I could have spiraled downward…could have spent all day replaying my mistakes, sinking beneath the burdens I carried. It’s what I would typically do. Instead, the truth of Christ made all things new. I was able to receive his love and then move forward, confident in his good plans for me, in his ability to carry the heavy load.
The work of parenting is far more difficult than I ever imagined. And life is filled with burdensome things. It just is. And the undeniable joys of it all don’t negate the fact that, sometimes, I feel at the bottom of a deep, dark well made of disappointments and brokenness and fear and my own unreasonable expectations. Saying it out loud almost always feels like freedom. And I know, thank you Jesus, that there is grace enough to cover it all. Sometimes I just need to hear it. Sometimes we all need to hear it.