Friday, December 31, 2010

When the Dealin's Done

It was June. And I was tired.

I was dealing with the residuals of some ridiculousness from earlier in the year, and I finally got to this place where I just stopped and said, How about a breather? And what if that breather lasted a while?

For some reason, six months seemed like the right amount of time, so that's what I chose. And while I was afraid to admit it too strongly at the time (because every vow is tested at some point), I knew that I would spend the next six months in one very serious sabbatical from dating.

So here we are, December 31, and I don't feel all that different. As in, I don't feel like I'm ready to wake up tomorrow and dive head-long into the relationship of my dreams. I mean, can you imagine? No. If anything, I think I feel more...temperate.

There have been these moments of stillness and silence in these 180 days...these times when I have had to quietly choose the right. And while I wish I could say that my heart has been steadfast enough to inspire the masses, I'm afraid that along the way, I have remained human. As I was reflecting on this unique little journey a couple of weeks ago, I was tempted to think that I've not accomplished anything of value, that since there was no grandiose epiphany, perhaps I had failed. Perhaps I had missed the point.

But see, the thing is, I've gotten the point. I'd gotten the point before I decided a break was in order. It's just that I needed the opportunity to flesh that out. I needed to have a chance to say what needed to be said...but I needed to learn how it is that I say that. I've known all along that my strength of compassion is also one of my greatest challenges, that I can hope in someone long after others have walked away, and often when I should have as well. What I didn't know was that, at some point, I could be compassionate without sacrificing my own dignity.

And what a revelation it has been. I landed in Houston in September, and it was there. I knew instantly that I could choose to be calloused, abrasive, rude. I truly had every right. Or I could choose mercy. My heart kind of gravitates toward mercy. So I chose mercy, but I chose well. And I learned that this was a good thing, that I could simply be kind. Simply.

What a marvel it is to learn how to be the best versions of ourselves. I only feel that I am just reaching the place where priorities have shifted into order and things are beginning to make sense. My daughter is such a gift, and being a mother is an enormous responsibility. My career is wonderful, but it demands an intense amount of focus. This is an extraordinary life. And I am beyond blessed to be living it. My hope is to live it well, and I'm grateful for the lessons that I've learned this year, both the painful ones in the beginning, and the peaceful ones in the end. So tonight, I celebrate. I started the year begging 2010 it to be better than the last. And while the year itself has no actual responsibility in the matter, I can honestly say that my desire was fulfilled. I hope yours was as well.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

And So It Continues

For the last few years, I've wondered at how difficult it seems to be to 'get into the Christmas spirit' as an adult compared to when I was a child and teenager. It's interesting to me that I often year other young(ish) adults say the same thing, that they're having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season. Naturally, that prompted me to analyze. The thing that I landed on last night was this: when I was younger, I had so many more opportunities to get jolly. I was in any number of choirs, all of whom would book holiday singing gigs. Every weekend held at least one organized Christmas shopping event, sometimes two. Decorating was awesome because there were five of us doing it (and five of us cleaning it up). And my mom was really good about playing Christmas music that we loved, making Christmas treats and crafts in the days leading up to the holiday, and just generally giving us reasons to be excited about the time of year. Now, you may have already figured this out, but it's taken me about 10 years to realize why it was easy to celebrate back then: I didn't have a choice.

Really, no one was holding a gun to my head, but I wasn't responsible for engineering my circumstances. I didn't plan the choir outings. Didn't schedule the shopping trips. Didn't pick out the Christmas tree or decide which cookies to bake or what record to play. The adults did that for us, and it was bliss because all we had to do was laugh and shop and sing and eat and make our wish lists. And the beauty of today is that I get to be the adult creating a season for my daughter where all she has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Sometimes that takes putting aside whatever stress may be lingering, or any issues that are clamoring for my attention. But for the most part, I'm finding such amazing joy this year in creating those moments for her and seeing the glee in her eyes when she looks out her window at Christmas lights, or she helps decorate our tree, or she gets to open her Advent box every night before bed.

It didn't come easily, though. Last year was a difficult year for me, and I struggled a little as we headed into December this year, half-flinching and wondering if this year would be the same. At some point, though, some switch somewhere flipped, and I decided it wouldn't be the same; it didn't have to be. I turned on Phil Wickham's Songs for Christmas and started getting the house ready for our decorations. As I cleaned and rearranged, the sound of bells and strings and voices swirled around me like magic until I was knee deep in good old-fashioned Christmas spirit.

Last night, Olivia and I came out to Cabot to help Nana bake the Christmas goodies she sends to grandkids who live out of town. I started out by making dinner for her and Grandpa, my trusty chicken enchiladas. After dinner, I gave Livi a bath and got her bundled into pjs, then we went for a drive around Cabot to look at Christmas lights. It was so amazing to see the same homes decked out that I used to marvel at 15 years ago. Livi just loved it and, as an added bonus, fell asleep on the way back to the house. Equally amazing was that after Livi was snoozing in the back, Nana was still oohing and aahing over the various displays in neighbors' yards. I so love her innocent spirit.

Later, Nana and I made Trash (her inexplicable name for Chex Mix, none of us know what it means), Ritz Cracker Cookies and Almond Bark Pretzels. We got into our pjs and watched Hallmark Christmas movies. It was a simple, low-key night, but it did my heart such good. So many reasons to be cheerful, such a sweet, simple time of sharing joy with my daughter and grandparents. And life is still life - I still have stress, there are still icky issues I have to handle - but the beauty of Christmas is that we get to stop, for five minutes, and say, "Peace."

This gift of God we’ll cherish well,
That ever joy our hearts shall fill.
How great our joy! (Great our joy!)
Joy, joy, joy! (Joy, joy, joy!)
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
(Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

When Did We See You Hungry?

If you've lived in the metro area for any length of time, you know that it's not uncommon to be stopped on the street by someone asking for money, or to see a man standing at a stop light, holding a cardboard sign that reads: "Hungry. Please help." Unfortunately, it's also not uncommon for my heart to break, my fear of others' opinions to swirl around my head, and my conscience to work overtime trying to design an excuse for keeping my eyes averted, my doors locked and my windows up. There it is, folks. Your daily dose of honesty. Don't worry - I've got more where that came from.

The Man on the Street

A few weeks ago, I was walking downtown with some friends, and a man approached and asked us for money. I had some cash in my purse, but I also had to get out of the parking deck, and I wasn't sure I had enough cash on hand to do both. And what was I supposed to do, anyway? Give him my Visa? Or worse, find an ATM? (I would hear this story later that evening.) So I let my friend handle it, and we walked on. But my insides were churning. I felt so guilty. The six dollar bills in my purse were screaming at me: "Let us out! That guy needs us!"

We walked the rest of the way to our cars, and as we were pulling up to the parking attendant's booth, one of my friends hopped out of the car in front of us, and ran towards us, waving money in her hands. "Here - it's for parking," she said, threw the money in my passenger side window and ran back to her truck. This was my provision for you. The words were almost audible. My shame was no less real. "Keep it," I mumbled to the friend who was riding with me. I paid the attendant with the money that was rightfully the Man on the Street's, and we left. As I drove home, I prayed for another opportunity to be His hands and feet, and I promised not to be a coward this time.

In All Things at All Times

So I began to contemplate ways that I could always be prepared to give. You know, keep an envelope with cash in it specifically for that purpose in my purse, carry baskets of bottled water and crackers and handi-wipes and clean socks in my truck, that kind of thing. The old familiar "They'll just use it to buy booze" sounded in my mind, and I stopped. And I thought about it. I started thinking about Jesus, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. That "inasmuch" is what always makes my gut wrench when I see someone in need and I fail to respond. I picture Jesus. Would I leave Jesus on the street, hungry? No! I would clothe him, bring him to my home, feed him, shelter him...I would treat him like royalty. But I had ignored the Man on the Street. I had not so much as acknowledged him, and I most certainly hadn't fed, clothed or sheltered him.

Then the thought occurred to me: there's no qualifier in Jesus' statements other than this - I was hungry, and you fed me. Not: I was hungry, and you gave me leftover food instead of money because who knows what I might have bought with your money. Or: I was legitimately homeless and not an addict or anything, so you drove me to a shelter and patted yourself on the back the whole way home. In other words: I had a need, and you verified its worthiness, then you responded in the most foolproof manner possible. This, Jesus did not say. This is barely better than what the goats said. No, this is what we, in all of our brilliance, have constructed so that little bits of our greed and insecurity and fear of actually living the kind of life Jesus lived can be ever so neatly swept under the rug of our sleeping faith. And when I say "we", I mean me.

On that Friday night last month, I prayed fervently for another opportunity to give. To see another Man on the Street and be able to give him whatever I had that he needed. I haven't seen him yet. What I've received instead is a greater understanding of Jesus' words and a deepened desire to give indiscriminately, to imitate my God who "gives generously to all, without finding fault." (James 1:5) My prayer is that I will see only the need and the one who has it, not the back story or the presumptions of guilt or innocence; that I will eagerly rise to be "generous on every occasion" (2 Cor 9:11).

This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity... Eph. 5:14-16

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Baby O

My little girl will be 3 this weekend. I love that our birthdays are less than a month apart, for the simple fact that she does not have to wait very long between seeing Mommy's birthday festivities and getting to enjoy her own. In fact, even with a fever, what may be a UTI, and droopy, tired eyes, she managed to look at me this afternoon and say, "I am sooo excited for my birthday party!" Some kid.

I'm just so grateful for her, on so many levels and for so many reasons. Admittedly, some of those reasons reside in places deep in my soul, places that I sometimes have trouble reaching myself for all of their grand seclusion. But many reasons live on the surface - they're so easily visible. When I break it all down, though, all of the things I love about her, about being a mother, about having a daughter, it all comes down to a central truth: she is mine, and she is an amazing, beautiful gift from the Lord. I could list all of the things that she is: funny, gorgeous, sweet, loving, smart, but really, who doesn't think that about their kid? I mean, we think our kids broke the mold because of how much we love them...and all of a sudden I realize:

He thinks I broke the mold. He thinks you broke the mold. He loves us, and He thinks we are funny, gorgeous, sweet, loving, smart.

The blinding truth within all of this, the thing that makes Him holy, wonderful, amazing God is that He knows all about us, including our cavernous capability to disappoint, and His stride is unbroken in running to gather us into His arms. We are His delight. His delight! I don't know about you, but I very seldom feel like I'm delighting Him. And you know, Olivia's behavior doesn't always delight me, but she is, nonetheless, my delight. Because she's mine. Crazy how that works.

So briefly, a glimpse into one of those deep reasons that I'm thankful for Olivia: I have learned more of His character in the last 3 years than I ever dared imagine I would. That knowledge is so sweet to me, a constant truth to which I gladly (and sometimes frantically) cling when fears assail. My constant prayer is that she will know Him and never doubt His love for her.

I love this girl. And if you're lucky enough to know her, I don't doubt that you love her, too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Just Peachy

I bought peaches at the Cabot Farmer's Market on Saturday. Yes, they do have a Saturday market in Cabot, and yes it is a little...different. While the NLR and LR merchants may be content to allow shoppers to peruse their goods in understood silence, the Cabot folks will start hollerin' at you before you've even gotten all the way out of your car. (I can make this observation because I grew up there.) It's a far cry from the Rivermarket Pavilion, but they had the cutest little peaches...and I'm a sucker for cute fruit.

Somehow, just thinking about baking a peach pie made me tired. All of that dough-making, then cooking the filling, then baking the crust, then baking the whole thing. I mean, that's like, two hours of mid-day oven time. No thanks, mister. If I want to put my head in an oven, I'll stand outside for a few minutes. Plus, I had a bushel full of jalapenos from Nana's garden, and I was going to have to figure out what to do with those things, too.

Then inspiration struck - peach salsa. After some googling and some kitchen-cleaning, I got started. I knew I wouldn't be content for throwing some diced peaches, tomatoes and peppers into a bowl and tossing it around with various herbs and seasonings. No, this was going to be a bonafide simmered, full-bodied, saucy salsa. So much for staying away from the stove. Below is my recipe, if you can call it that. It's more a loose description of what I did and how I did it. I try to stay away from recipes whenever possible. Every artist needs her freedom, after all.

Andrea's Peach Salsa
8 small-ish ripe peaches, peeled and diced
2 medium fat-boy or very large Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
5 jalapenos, seeded and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 c. vinegar (distilled, white wine, apple cider would all work. I have an orange muscat champagne vinegar I plan to try next time.)
3/4 c. water
some more sugar (I use turbinado sugar, probably about 1/2 cup. If you use white sugar or sucanat, I recommend sugaring to taste.)
1 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
dash nutmeg
tee-tinsy bit of salt

The very first thing you want to do is remove the seeds and membranes from your jalapenos. After you do that, wash your hands thoroughly. I recommend making a baking soda paste and thoroughly scrubbing your hands, including under your fingernails. Once you're sure that you won't inflict injury upon yourself by rubbing jalapeno oil into your eye, you may proceed.

To peel the peaches and tomatoes easily, bring a medium saucepan full of water to boil. Plunge the peaches/tomatoes, one or two at a time, into the boiling water. Leave for 30-45 seconds, then remove. This should make fairly quick, un-frustrating work of the peeling.

In a medium-sized Dutch oven (if you have one), combine the peaches, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Add everything else. Stir well, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let boil for 3-5 minutes. Bring down to a simmer. Make a cornstarch/water paste with about a tablespoon of cornstarch, and add the paste to the simmering mixture, stirring constantly. It should cause the mixture to thicken; if not, make more paste and repeat. After a good while of simmering (mine was 30 minutes, but I think 10 would be okay), taste the mixture and discover, with horror, what I discovered: this tastes like peach and pepper cobbler. The fruit is very upfront, so you'll likely need something to amp up the savory-ness. I tried adding more garlic - no dice. As proud as I was of my super-fresh, home-grown sweet summer salsa, I knew that I needed to go to the pantry on this one. Tentatively, I opened a can of Ro-Tel (Mild). I carefully added a meager teaspoon of that tomatoey-peppery-spicy goodness to a tiny bowl of my peachy invention, and I waited. Then I tasted it, and all was right with the world. I dumped the whole can into my pot and kept on simmerin'.

The result, you ask? A peach salsa that is as tasty as it is pretty. See for yourself.

I was able to fill 2 wide-mouth pint jars and 1 very cute 6 oz. jar when it was all said and done. This can definitely have various uses: straight up chips and salsa, as a garnish to fish tacos (yummm), on grilled pork chops or chicken, you name it. Buon appetito!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thanks a Lot, Eve.

There's a fairly common saying that says, loosely paraphrased: beware of asking God for more patience; you'll just end up with more opportunities to wait. It's meant to be funny, and as is often the case, its humor lies in its truth. How many of you have prayed for patience and found yourself catching every single red light the next day, stuck behind the slowest human being in the entire universe at Target, or sitting in the Walgreen's drive thru for thirty minutes only to find out that your prescription hasn't even been called in yet? Yep. Thought so.

So it comes as no surprise that, as I was boldly proclaiming my desire to fully live out a life filled with Christ's love, a sweet little surprise was waiting for me in the pages of Ethel Herr's "Chosen Women of the Bible". And it's only Chapter One, y'all.

A Suitable Helper

As you may have guessed, the first chapter/lesson in Herr's book is about Eve. A couple of years ago, I started Kay Arthur's "Show Me Your Ways" study, and I've considered myself a little bit of a creation story pro ever since. Funny how a handful of fresh insights can make us feel like subject matter experts. I sailed through the first three questions about Eve, and that's when the trouble started. See for yourself.

"NOTE: The word 'helpmeet' in the King James Version may be translated 'suitable helper.' Check other translations for further ideas."

Gladly! I thought. Man, have I ever wanted to find a new way of saying that. (This may be a good time to warn you that there are what could be interpreted as possible feminist undertones ahead. If you stay with me, you'll see it all ends well. I think.) Never one to ignore a challenge, I did what I always do when I want to figure something out: I googled it. What did I see, other than a link to The Help Meet Dilemma. Jackpot! Among some of the more precious thoughts in this woman's study are the following definitions of the original word for helpmeet, a Hebrew word "ezer", from Genesis 2:18.

"The Hebrew term 'ezer' is actually based on an ancient word 'azar.' The Strongs Hebrew dictionary translates it as 'to surround, i.e. protect or aid:--help, succour.'

I personally had to look up the word succour. It means to be the one who gives assistance in a time of great difficulty."

How's that for a purpose? I absolutely love the idea of surrounding someone who needs protection, of helping someone in great difficulty. Granted, I am not a wife, but I am a mother, and I know just how strong those instincts can become after having a child. I find a ferocious sense of freedom in the thought that I was created to surround, protect and aid my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. What a wonderful calling.

All the Single Ladies

You know, I've read the creation story thousands of times; I have contemplated the curse again and again, but I have always stopped just a little bit short in my sorting out of it all. After all, if a girl doesn't have a husband, then she doesn't have to worry about desiring one who rules over her, right? Right! Besides that, husbands aren't supposed to lord their authority over their wives anyway, right? Right! When Herr asked if God intended for man's role of leadership in the marriage to "become a dictatorship", I couldn't have felt more validated. Finally! I thought, as my firmly penned "NO" declared jubilant victory for oppressed women everywhere.

I could not have predicted what happened next, but it's safe to say that it was the spiritual equivalent of a body slam.
How do you think God intends a woman to relate to men other than her husband in matters of leadership and authority?
I literally stopped breathing. Maybe I thought if I was really, really still, I wouldn't have to answer that question, that the Holy Spirit would let me inch right on past it. After all, I'm an Adam-less Eve. And this question doesn't specifically refer to women who aren't married. Even if it did, though, I'm supposed to be exempt from submission. Right???

No such luck, sisters.

When I started breathing again, I closed my eyes, and I tried to quiet my screaming heart, and I prayed. Show me Your truth. I promise to see it. In an earlier question, Herr had referenced Ephesians 5:22-23, so I returned to that passage. Wives, do this. Husbands, do that. Real specific marriage stuff, or so it seems. But if you back up a verse to the passage right before, you'll see what verse 21 has to say: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." In God-breathed, useful for teaching, double-edged black and white. I knew those were the words for me. Christ, who calls me beloved. Christ, to whom I belong. Christ, who calls me His bride. Out of reverence for the One who loved and gave Himself up for the Church, I am called to submit to my brothers and sisters in the body. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church. (v. 29)

I can do that.

It's not easy, and that's probably why I've enjoyed a self-given exception to the rule for so long. Even now, as I think about submitting to others, to loving them above myself no matter how contentious they (or I) may be, I'm tempted to find a way to spend as much time as possible in seclusion. How very quickly the well would run dry. If my purpose is to be a helper, then I need to be out there helping.

What an excellent reminder that our role as women is universally applicable. It dates to our creation, and while we often see it as having been created within the context of the marriage relationship, it is first and foremost a role given us by our Creator. We were created by Him, for this purpose. Nothing--absolutely nothing--is more beautiful than the fulfillment of His purpose.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'd Walk on My Lips

When did we stop saying please? When did we give ourselves permission to be so hateful? Yes, the heat is scorching all of us straight into crankiness, and the economy is still in the crapper, and no one can figure out how to share their political opinions without being labeled something really ugly by one side or the other, and we're flying from home to work to the grocery store to church to school to home, where we're falling into bed with the promise to wake up early and do Pilates/laundry/the dishes/our quiet time still on our lips. We wake up late instead of early the next day, and we do it all over again. Our lives are slowly circling the drain of preoccupation, and as our worn and feeble fingers try to claw their way out of the cycle, we find that we've nothing left for anyone else - not even a 'thank you', and certainly not a 'please'. I'm beginning to take issue with that.

If You Can't Say Anything Nice About Anybody, Come Sit By Me

I remember a time when we would move our carts for each other in the grocery store aisle. Lately, I find myself thinking instead: "I'm tired. I am stressed. My daughter is restless, I resent having to be at the grocery store in the first place, and who really needs to inspect the cake mixes that closely, anyway? Good grief, lady, there's a bakery not fifteen feet from here - save us all the trouble and GO BUY ONE THAT'S ALREADY MADE!" You'll all be very relieved to know that I usually move my shopping cart out of the way and simply think these things as I'm walking away, having completely forgotten about whatever I was looking for in the first place.

But see, the thing is, I used to smile, say "excuse me", and move my cart up the aisle without the slightest hint of a mental tirade. It simply didn't phase me. What has happened to make my skin so prickly that I bristle at the thought of moving five feet forward to serve anything other than my own all-important purposes? Besides leading such busy lives that our reserves are more often depleted than restocked, perhaps the strain of living in these times, in this culture and with these pressures has left us feeling more battered and bruised than we stop to realize. Like injured animals, we lash out at anything that comes near us, threatening or not.

Though we're tempted to behave as though it is, the weight of the world is not actually on our shoulders. It's already been carried. Why, then, am I allowing myself to become burdened again by a yoke of slavery?

Let This Mind Be in You

I was driving home yesterday, and I was thinking about boundaries, and protecting ourselves in potentially toxic relationships, and I thought about Jesus. I thought about His close relationships with family and friends. I wondered how He handled the challenging ones. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say, "Then Jesus sat down with so-and-so to have a talk about healthy boundaries." But it does tell us how He loved. How He forgave Peter after he betrayed Him, how He went to such great lengths on the beach that morning to give Peter just as many opportunities to tell Jesus that he loved Him as he had vehemently denied knowing Him. And it hit me - He was so filled with the love of the Father that relating in a healthy way just came naturally. Maybe He didn't need to have boundaries talks. Because love covers a multitude of wrongs. He trusted His Father's protection so thoroughly that He was freed up to focus less on self-preservation and more on literally saving the world.

And I'm getting snarky about sharing a 35,000 square foot grocery store with a few people?

The Breach in My Wall

All of this tells me that two things are needed: a slower pace, and a stronger spiritual focus. This is the part of the post where I confess a greater need for both. I keep returning to the passage in Nehemiah...workmen by day, guards by night. It's not enough to either guard or rebuild. We have to do both if we don't want to be staring at the same pile of rubble in 10 years. Why is it so hard to do both?

I'm thinking of starting a study called Chosen Women of the Bible. I tentatively started it about a year ago, but I only got as far as Eve, if that tells you anything. I'd love to hear how different people approach this - what works, what hasn't worked so well, etc. - so if you have input that you'd like to share, I'd love to hear it.

If we're going to love people, we need to be whole. We might be able to phone in the housework and taking care of ourselves and even, occasionally, the job. But the life of love to which we've been called requires full-on participation. We just don't have anything to pour out if we're refusing to be filled. Oh, for grace to trust Him more.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


My child is on the brink of becoming a 3 year-old. And I'm not gonna lie to ya - up until now, I've had it fairly easy. She was an early self-soother, meaning she settled very nicely into the Baby Whisperer routine as an infant and learned, almost immediately, how to go to sleep on her own. She didn't waste any time learning to feed herself, and as soon as her sense of balance agreed, she was beginning to walk. Six months ago, she put up such a fight to all of my potty-training efforts that I threw in the towel (or toilet paper) and decided to wait until she was ready. I figured I'd have this mystical mommy-inuition moment where I could suddenly tell that it was time. Instead, my baby girl woke up from a Sunday afternoon nap three weeks ago, ever so casually went poo-poo on the potty, and she has been completely potty-trained ever since. So you see, I've had to do very little of the titanic struggling that most moms go through to get their children to perform the basic functions of life: sleep, eat, walk, poop.

Did I mention that she can count to 17 and say most of her ABC's?

It's no wonder that I almost feel like I'm getting ready to be a mother for the first time, all over again. I thought the walking/talking/eating/pooping thing would be tough. But this next part is scaring me to death: she has learned to reason. All of a sudden, she's spitting out these complete sentences that display an uncanny ability to understand her environment and respond with her-gasp-thoughts. It really is terrifying. I tell her that it's time for bed, and she not only tells me that she does not want to go to bed, she tells me precisely why she would like to stay up. I have this brilliant little debater, and I am ill-prepared for her arguments.

I don't want to respond with the traditional "because I said so" and "don't talk back to your mother" and "1...2...2 and 3 quarters...", but I don't know how to get the right words across to her. She was arguing with me about watching Blue's Clues Friday morning, and when I tried to explain to her that watching too much television is not a good idea, she just squirmed and wiggled and whined. Is it possible for a child's mind to be able to send arguments and not yet be capable of receiving them? Is that a verifiable developmental stage?

You know, before they begin to speak full sentences and show powers of deduction and reasoning, you talk to them like they're still part-baby, part-child. You wonder how much is getting through, how much is making an much will be remembered. Almost like you're talking to someone who you think might speak a little bit of English, maybe. And when the part-baby grows up and English is no longer a second language, the realization of your words' weight is staggering. All of a sudden you're unwittingly shouting every word through a megaphone into a room the size of a shoebox. I'm dissecting everything I say to her. When I told her to sit down, was I too harsh? When she asked me for some milk, did I act put out that she needed me? Can she tell that I'm frazzled tonight? Am I smothering her with affection? Am I endangering her sense of security? Does she feel loved?

Mercy. Seriously. I need it. I'm asking for a double portion in the days to come. I breezed through the weeks that leave many moms in a tearful, tired, poo-covered heap. The fact that I breezed through them on the wings of grace is not lost on me. Something tells me I won't breeze through this next part. And that's okay - I want to welcome every new season in my sweet daughter's life. So as I stare at her in wonder, I remember that God is just as faithful today as He was on the day that I had Olivia. He is just as loving, just as powerful, just as generous. And I learn to hold on...

Prayers for this Child
Sara Groves

I do not know how I am to pray for this child
as a mother I don't want my baby denied
but in the waiting in the waiting
I learned

every instinct in me wants to shield him from pain
take the arrows of misery heartache and blame
but in the sorrow in the sorrow
I learned to hold on

I only have two eyes - be all seeing
I only have two hands - be everywhere
I do not know enough - to be all knowing
I give this baby up into your care

I do not know how, how to pray for this child
I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild
but in the trial in the trial
I learned to hold on
And in the trial, in the trial
I learned to hold on to the heart of God

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Everybody needs a little time away, I heard [ME] say...

A light flickered on in my dusty old brain this week, and I realized: I need a break. Somehow. Just a break. Naturally I started looking at beachfront rentals. When the sound of Dave Ramsey's voice ringing in my ears got to be completely unbearable, I switched to weekend getaways here in the Natural State. My favorite was booked for this weekend. Then I remembered that I had a gift card for a Swedish massage, and I desperately needed a haircut, and inspiration dawned: Spa Night for less than $50. Dave's happy, Mommy's happy. Done.

My mother, who helps me more than I'm pretty sure any other single mom is helped, agreed to keep Olivia so I could have a few hours to myself. I started at the spa, and the massage was great. I must confess that I have yet to find someone who can live up to Terry (see also: my first massage therapist, to whom I will forever be loyal), and anytime I see someone besides her - which is all the time now because she has fallen off the face of the earth - I usually encounter some disappointment. I will say, though, Lacy was very gracious, and she did not kill me, like some therapists try to do. Also, she did not touch my backside, which earns her major points. I had a massage at a certain clinic and day spa here in town, and I swear the dude spent 45 minutes on my butt. Because a massage is meant to be a peaceful, relaxing thing, I held my tongue, thinking, oh he'll move on any minute. I don't want to interrupt this wonderful zen moment by being rude. If the last year has taught me anything, though, it's that no moment is zen when you're paying for someone else's superfluous comfort at the expense of your own basic needs. I'm pretty sure Julia Sugarbaker could've still found a relative amount of peace and relaxation in telling someone to get his hands off her rear end. And I've always liked Julia Sugarbaker.

Anyway, the massage was good, then I took a leisurely drive down Cantrell (I always like driving past Edgehill and remembering some of the better wedding-planning-days) and headed on to Salon On The Hill, owned by Josh and Natalie Carr. Natalie is a hair genius. Plus she has four daughters, PLUS she reminds me of Sharla, so she gets points all around. One of the ways in which she reminds me of Sharla is that if I want to sit there and not say a single word while she's doing my hair, I'm pretty sure that's okay by her. But if I want to chat up a storm, she'll go along with that, too. Either way, I never feel like I have to do anything but just be there, just sit in the chair. You know, that may be just as relaxing as a trip to the spa. Tonight, it actually was.

So I'm grateful. It's been a hell of a few months, I'm not gonna lie. But it's okay. It's all going to be okay. Today I was breathing a prayer that God would let me know that He is with me in all of this, that there is a purpose, that He has an end in sight, and as I was breathing this prayer, the very words I was longing to hear were being spoken to me...there is a purpose. The end is in sight, and it is beautiful - a masterpiece that will bear His indelible mark. You will never be the same, and you will find beauty from these ashes.

...but God intended it all for good.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Intentional Wait

King David had to wait twelve years from the time he was promised the throne until the time it became his. During that twelve years, he was hotly pursued by a man whose jealousy of David had driven him to utter, murderous madness. Still, he waited. He could have amassed an army with the sole intention of killing Saul and seizing the throne of Israel. Easily. What was the song? "Saul has slain his thousands, David his tens of thousands"? Yeah. Pretty sure he could've taken the throne at any moment. But he waited. He knew that God was going to give him the throne, and he agreed to have it no other way.

I remember, when I was about 19 years old, telling someone just how badly I wanted to be married, how everything in my life just had to be building up to that, and I would just die if it didn't happen soon. She said something to the effect of, "You know, David had to wait a dozen years before God made him king." I nodded intently, I might have even murmured a reverent amen. And in my mind, I thought, You.are.crazy.lady.

Well, it's almost twelve years later...

Funny how a little conversation I had over 4,000 days ago is suddenly smacking me in the middle of the forehead. Holy mackerel.

The weekends have been difficult lately. We run and run and run during the week, so I don't typically have much of a chance to look around and think about what - if anything - may be missing from our already-blessed life. But the weekend...when everything slows down, and I'm in charge of our days, things get quiet. And my mind starts ticking off the questions. What if I had...why hasn't it...when will it...what did I do...what am I did it become...why? Why hasn't He done this yet??

I told my mother, I wish I had the luxury of thinking that my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. Trouble is, I know He hears me...I know He sees me...I know He feels what I'm feeling...I know He knows. I just don't know why He won't do anything about it. Right this minute. Because obviously, that's the schedule I'm workin' on here.

So last Saturday, I dropped Liv off with my grandparents and headed back to my house to get ready for a girls' night with Robin. Cute clothes, dinner out, catching really doesn't get any better. Robin showed up at the Briar around 6:30, along with the news of nine super-cell thunderstorms and tornado predictions - everywhere. Awesome. Thankfully, I do my very darnedest to keep a well-stocked kitchen, and she does her very darnedest to eat whatever I cook for her, no matter how random. We're a good fit like that. But then, most all of my girlfriends indulge my culinary experimentation. Rather, they indulge themselves on my culinary experimentation. Either way, really. Anyway, I digress.

On my way back to the house to meet Robin, I just had to start talking. This thing was too heavy, and I needed to say it and hear it being said in the hopes that at least the catharsis would buy me some time until I could figure out what to do with the rest of the questions. I felt this crazy urgency to pray...and even though things were hurting and icky, the sense of being drawn to my Father was a comfort, as it always is. So I prayed. And I cried. And I got stuck in the middle of the questions, just like I always do. I plowed on through and prayed a little more, before getting home and spending girls' night with Robin watching KTHV radar and following the #arwx hashtag on Twitter.

Fast forward to Craig's sermon Sunday morning. The topic, you ask? Unanswered prayer. You know, that place in the middle of my forehead is getting a little sore from all the smacking. But I listened. And I'm going to have to listen again. And probably a couple more times. Sometimes I feel like this is completely frivolous. Barren women are crying out to God for a child. Unemployed men are pleading with God for a job so they can provide for their families. Abused children are imploring Jesus to intercede on their behalf. And here I am...with a gorgeous, amazing daughter, a fantastic job, a family that supports and deeply loves me, a home, wonderful friends, a healthy body, an active mind...and I'm whining about not having a husband. But see, the thing is, to me, a husband is Hannah's Samuel. It's the jobless man's career. It's an abused child's rescue. And why do I feel like that is wrong and melodramatic?

For some reason, we've taken Paul's teachings on marriage and interpreted them in such a way that marriage becomes this completely unnecessary side-bar to the Christian life. If you've got it, spend it wisely, and if not, by all means, don't rock the boat because good GRIEF does that ever make it harder to keep your sanity and your faith. Am I allowed to either disagree with that or say: even so...yes, please? Chances are, I'm not. Liturgically speaking, anyway.

But I do have a choice. And right now, that choice is to wait.

To wait for the Lord.
to entrench dig in
To be strong and take heart
to set one's face, to act manfully
To wait
in hope, in eager expectation
For the Lord.
for the Lord.

So I wait.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't bother Jesus

The timidity with which I approach Jesus really must be frustrating for Him. I tentatively reach for the grace that I've already been promised, an apologetic look on my face. I imagine my daughter asking for something she needs in this way. Please, can I have just a little milk? I know that I don't deserve it. I'm sorry. I'm just thirsty. I could cry just thinking about it. It would break my heart. I would swoop her up into my arms, grab a straw and the whole dang gallon of milk out of the fridge, and I wouldn't let her go until she knew that I will stop at nothing to provide for her, to love her. As it is, when she asks me for something, she asks confidently, and it is always my joy to give her what she has requested. Even if it's chocolate at 6 a.m. So this flawed, human being, as selfish as I am - I still provide for my daughter and long to give her what she desires and more. We really need to be more acquainted with our role as Beloved. Really.

More than conquerors
Coheirs with Christ
Will rise on wings as eagles
You stoop to make me great
Strengthened with all power according to His glorious might
Greater is He that is in me
Clothed with strength and dignity
Hands trained for war; fingers for battle
Will never be put to shame

All of my life, in every season, You are still God
I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship

Monday, March 8, 2010


4:51 a.m. Sit up on the side of the bed. Eventually the rest of me will wake up.
4:53 a.m. Stumble to couch, Diet Coke in hand, finish I John Bible study for tonight.
5:30 a.m. Shower. Makeup. Hair. Daughter.
6:45 a.m. Depart.
7:00 a.m. Still, small voice: Drop Livi off first, THEN go to the cleaners to get your suit.
7:05 a.m. Exit for cleaners, Livi still in truck.
7:06 a.m. Arrive at cleaners, who are closed but supposed to be open. Immediately understand why ignoring still small voice directive was a mistake.
7:10 a.m. Drop Livi off.
7:12 a.m. Call cleaners, make sure they decided to open after all. They did. Proceed.
7:40 a.m. Arrive at office, suit, muffins and Diet Coke in hand. Change. Guzzle DC. Throw muffins on a plate.
7:50 a.m. Overhear employees discussing the marvel of seeing someone's vehicle in the lot that early, I can only guess they mean mine.
7:51 a.m. Swing front door wide open to greet said employees who are unaware they have been overheard.
8:30 a.m. Commission meeting/hearing under way.
12:00 p.m. Commission meeting over. Answering a few questions, avoiding bait to interpret license law and validate complaints that are not mine to validate. Placed in same age class as 60 year-old man. Thanks a lot.
12:30 p.m. Poor sweet employee tells me the music they are playing for the reception is horrible.
12:31 p.m. I tell poor sweet employee that I picked it out.
12:33 p.m. Poor sweet employee starts circling the hall outside my office, waiting for me to get off the phone so she can:
12:35 p.m. ...apologize for offending my iTunes.
1:30 p.m. Reception under way. Mingle, smile, shake, laugh, greet.
2:45 p.m. Why do I wear these pumps??
3:00 p.m. Crash at desk. Eek out 90 minutes of focus time.
4:35 p.m. Climb into truck. Windows down. Music up. Resist urge to kick off heels, as driving barefoot unnerves me.
5:00 p.m. - present: Collect daughter, go to dinner, daughter falls, hits head, waiter gives her a juice box, she spills it all over herself, off to Bible study, clean pants in the truck, listen, share, think, shake the day off by going to Mom's, venting, now blogging, and in three minutes, crashing.

Goodnight, Monday.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Skin

Think about your skin. We have all of these different phrases, analogies and words having to do with skin that we use to describe emotions: thick-skinned, sensitive, raw, calloused, prickly, abrasive,, wait, well, maybe not ashy. But you know.

Skin is our largest organ. It is the thing that people see when they look at us - the thing that they feel when they touch us, the thing that allows us to feel them when they touch us, the thing that shows all of our bruises, bleeding, scratches, blemishes, stretch marks and scars. The poignancy of Shakespeare's, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" from The Merchant of Venice, is not lost on me as I consider the duality of skin. We all have skin.

Sometimes, my skin is very thin. I show every scratch, scrape, bump, bruise, pinch, tear, poke and cut. You could brush past me, and it would leave a mark. I am already, by nature, a sensitive person, so to be at this heightened level of sensitivity is frustrating and draining, even for someone who knows who she is. My natural tendency is to retreat into myself as far as I possibly can - to put as much distance between my skin and my insides as possible so that every wound hurts less - but I find it's impossible, and all of my vitality stubbornly bulges against the surface of my skin, even while it is threatening to be torn to shreds.

And sometimes, my skin is very thick. Rough, calloused even. I'm unshakable, strong, fortified. The only problem there is that nothing gets through - whether hostile or friendly. Eventually, I'll either end up either sloughing off layers of callouses for days or living with this hardened exterior. That's just no way to live.

All of this makes me wonder: if physiologically, skin is our largest organ, then emotionally, is it our largest organ as well? And in parallel, does it require the same amount of care? We go to amazing lengths - particularly as women - to care for our skin. We drink unthinkable amounts of water each day to keep it hydrated. We eat the right foods, we wear the right amount of UV protection. We spend thousands of dollars a year on products to keep wrinkles at bay, maintain the ever-precious elasticity, enhance firmness and create luminosity. We devote hours to massaging lotions and creams and butters and potions into every nook and cranny to keep it soft, supple, strong and youthful.

So emotionally, what does our "skin" require? I'm going to start with the most basic: attention. When you start to notice that your legs are dry, you don't ignore them. You rub those babies down with some shea butter. You don't sit there and think, "Hm. I wonder why my legs are so dry. Maybe it's the new laundry detergent I am using. Maybe I'm allergic to denim after all. Maybe I need to try a new shave gel." No! You find the thickest, creamiest lotion in the house, and you slather it on your gams until they stop itching and burning. And then you probably slather on some more just for good measure.

But for some reason, the thinner my emotional skin grows, the more I puzzle at why it is doing so. I stall and sputter, wondering how in the world this could have happened, when what I need to lay hold of is the solution...and healing. Perhaps I think that finding the culprit will ease the pain, that some solid detective work will undo the crime. Faulty. In the end, I'm still focused on the pain. What a comfort to know that that there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded heal the sin-sick soul. Lord, give us the courage to call off the dogs and reach for Your healing instead.

The next thing I think our emotional skin needs is balance. Neither too thin nor too thick are desirable options. We want our skin to be supple and strong. We want to roll with the punches without allowing them to break us apart. When I think of the things that keep me in balance, I think about time with my daughter, healthy relationships, deep rest, a clear conscience, God's presence in my life, good fellowship and of course, the occasional Swedish massage. The things that throw me off: bad decisions, bad news, hectic schedules, disrupted relationships, ignoring my relationship with the Lord, and not enough "me" time. Yes, yes, into every life a little rain must fall. But you've got to give yourself equal, if not greater, parts of sunshine, too. We've got to take measures, both proactive and reactive, to keep our lives in balance.

And then, protection. We protect our skin from the elements in some way every day. In the winter, we wear scarves and coats and mittens and Smartwools. In the summer, we wear sunscreen (if we're smart), more breathable clothing and extra moisturizer. Many women (and some men) wear UV protectant all year round. I'm not saying the elements are our enemies. The things I love most about the changing seasons are the changes in the elements - balmy days turn into brisk nights and frosty mornings turn into sunny afternoons. It's wonderful. Just the same, extreme conditions create the need for some measure of protection. Emotionally and spiritually, we are living in a world of extreme conditions. It is impossible to wander through this life without encountering all kinds of threats to our hearts. Poverty, opulence, violence, oppression, abuse, competition, elation, failure, success, tragedy, heartbreak, LIFE. It's all there. Some things we need to outright shield ourselves from - completely block them out and reject their presence in our lives. Others are okay in doses - unavoidable, even - whether they are good or bad. Either way, we need protection, and I'm convinced that protecting ourselves just isn't enough. We need some Ephesians 6 protection. We need the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. The belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, and feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Only then will we be able to stand [our] ground, and after [we] have done everything, to stand.

It is with only a small amount of surprise that I realize the final parallel between our physical and emotional skin. They both serve to protect us, yet they both need protecting. Just as we entrust our physical bodies to God for protection, so must we also surrender our emotional selves. For healing and protection, balance and growth. We will be safer in no other hands.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 1:18-23

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tantrums and the Still, Small Voice

I stopped writing my ideas down in my Moleskine because I got distracted, busy, etc. I regret that and am immediately making amends.

Today's lesson: listen carefully, and stop being so ridiculously stubborn.

Liv and I had a great morning - we got up early, and I took her to breakfast on the way to daycare, then I headed on to another 2-day session at UALR. When I got to daycare this afternoon to pick Livi up, I was met with a very unexpected surprise. See, lately when I've picked her up, she's been less-than-excited to see me. I know it's just because she's having fun playing with her friends, plus she's all independent now, so I really don't let it bother me. Well, today, she ran to me and just hugged me and clung to me and laughed and it was just awesome. On the way out, her teacher told me that Kohl's was having a good sale on kids' clothes, so I thought it'd be a good idea to run by there before going home and see if we could find anything cute. As I was pulling into the parking lot, though, something was telling me that maybe it wasn't such a good idea - maybe I should just take the kiddo home and enjoy a quiet evening together. But I had already decided that I wanted to take Liv shopping, so we parked and went in the store.

The tantrum history. Literally, this one took the cake. She cried, she screamed, she kicked, she cried some more. All because I wouldn't let her push the cart and instead made her sit in it. Oh, she was mad. Eventually I caved, and she ended up pushing the cart. And after 10 minutes of that, I think it's a safe assumption that everyone in Kohl's knew her name. Literally, the cashier called her by name as we were leaving and told us to have a good night. More crying and kicking ensued when I tried to put her in her carseat. It. Was. Agony. Trying to get her into the house was not any easier.

Finally I managed to get her and our things inside and get dinner started. She wanted to be held, and to watch her movie, so that's what I did. But I couldn't help feeling guilty. Instead of spending the entire evening hanging out and having fun together, we had spent an hour fighting, and 15 minutes cuddling before I had to finish dinner, feed us, and start the bedtime routine. Why am I so stubborn?? What is it in me that couldn't just say: eh, let's just go home. I think I know the answer, and I don't like it. Not one bit. Suffice it to say that this girl needs to get rid of some junk rattling around in my head.

My sweetie sleeps peacefully now. And as I head that direction myself, I realize just how grateful I am that His mercies are new every morning.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Week in the Life

The week began benignly enough. I set off Monday morning for an MRI and promptly discovered how much I hate sitting still. And having one of my extremities jammed into a ginormous magnet. Yeah. That too. You know, we could very easily avoid all this bad press from war torture tactics by shoving folks in an MRI machine instead. Seriously. If I'd had any secrets that would've gotten me out of that thing, I would've started talking about five minutes in. Alas, no amount of talking could save me from this experience. I wrapped up, went to work, and was met with the news that my sis would be going to the hospital that night to begin induction. Wahoo! Jellybean was officially on her way to meet us!

I arranged to have the next day off so I could be at the hospital with the fam. The story of my sweet little niece's arrival is not my story to tell, but suffice it to say that my sister did an amazing job of getting that baby here. She had some pretty decent help from her hubby and our mom, too. The newest addition to our ever-expanding extended family is definitely a joy. Chubby, sweet, pretty, and feeding like a champ!

I returned to work on Wednesday to meet with a couple vendor reps about work stuff. We met, lunched, met some more, and then we all met up for dinner. There was a gap in between leaving the office and going to dinner when I was able to go home and get ready. I did not want to speak a single word. I'd been "on" all day, and I was about to have to be back on, so I reveled in about 60 minutes of solid, quiet, alone time. And then 10 minutes of frantic getting ready and heading back into town for dinner. Two words: Ristorante Capeo. Okay, no, wait, three words: fried sage leaves. Who would have ever thought...

After Capeo, I met a friend of mine downtown, and we ended up at Stickyz, seeing Lucious. He played me some Sam Cooke. That was good. But perhaps I am a little too old to be out that late on a school night...

Fast forward to the next morning, and we hit the ground running. I took Livi to school and headed in to the office, but as I was driving, these waves of nausea started hitting me. I was in rush hour traffic, so lots of stop and go. I thought maybe I had just rushed around too much that morning and needed to get settled in and I'd be fine. Not so much. Then I thought - oh, I took my multivitamin on an empty stomach, that must be it. Nope. Not enough Diet Coke? Fat chance. This was good, old-fashioned achey-shakey nausea. Thankfully I'd saved some of the vendor/staff meetings for that day (did I mention I still had a vendor rep visiting my office?), so my team was able to handle most of the one-on-one while I spent the morning wishing I could find some non-drowsy Phenergan.

I finished the work day and headed straight to my mom's, where I immediately put on flannel pj's and crawled into bed. My daughter showed up about an hour later (thanks to Papa's Shuttle Service), and we managed to entertain each other until Mom got home and more or less took over. Thanks to Baba, some excellent comfort food (a la Gamps and Marie Callender), a cozy hearth room, and some Nyquil, I got some very decent sleep.

And woke up with tonsils the size of Texas. I actually think this may be the flu. So here it is, Friday night, and we're at home. My house is a disaster area, and I would really like for that to not be the case. But tomorrow is Saturday, and all I have planned is a hair appointment, so I'm gonna let the mopping and sweeping wait until tomorrow morning (not in that order). Livi and I had a good time tonight, and she was so sweet and cuddly. I can always tell when I've had us on the run too much because she comes home and just wants to be near me. And that is one of the best feelings ever. So I'll take that and some Theraflu, and I'll call it a night.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nuclear Reactors

So my sister and her family were in town for two weeks. Having them here was incredibly amazing. I loved getting to love on those kids, watch my daughter play with her cousins, and hear from Sharla and Brent about the different things they have going on. I always appreciate Sharla's perspective on things and the way that she listens. It's pretty much the same with Brent. They are just really good at sharing with people and letting people share with them. Of the various examples of marriage I am blessed enough to view, theirs is one of my favorites, especially among folks my age. And they are generous. When I think about it, all of my sisters are generous. I like that about our family.

While they were here, I tried to spend as much time with them as possible. I had to work some, and I needed some down time, but other than that, when they were at Mom's or Dad's, I tried to be there. Naturally at times, things got a little crazy. I think at one point we had 10+ kids running around Mom's house, plus all of the adults. Since I only have one child, I'm not as accustomed to multiple children and all of the accompanying motion, sound, etc. Everytime someone screamed and I whipped my head around to see who it was and what was happening, I felt a little silly. Call it jumpy, I guess. But you know, I'm okay with that. My life is how it is for a reason, and I like it. I like that I'm accustomed to a decent level of quiet. It's a blessing for me; just the same, I admire the mothers I know who have adjusted to a more lively atmosphere. I think it says a lot about someone's inner calm.

Which brings me to my next subject: emotional triggers. Or, for lack of a better term: buttons. Last fall I attended an incredibly enlightening course on conflict management. The instructor was amazing, and I have to say, of all of the training courses I've participated in over the last year, this one stands out. So informative, so useful. One of the things that our instructor said, over and over again, was that you have to know what your buttons are, you have to know when they're being pushed, and you have to know how to keep yourself from reacting in order to effectively manage conflict. See, the button-push is the fail-safe for the confrontee in any conflict. Example: if I spread a vicious rumor about you, and you confront me about it, and I just happen to know that one of your buttons is, I don't know, let's say...being thought inconsistent or hypocritical, I can easily 'defend' myself by pushing this button. You confront me about spreading the rumor, and I pitch back to something you may have done last month and take the how-dare-you approach. Might even come right out and call you a hypocrite. Instantly the issue is clouded, and the confrontation escalates beyond either of our control. I don't even have to respond to your initial inquiry or concern. That's how powerful buttons can be.

I've been able to locate my buttons in the workplace with a relative amount of ease. I know what my sensitive areas are, and I know how to recognize when they are being singled out. Somehow that recognition makes non-reaction very feasible. I don't's like you're looking at the way a bomb is wired instead of imagining the blast. It's just a lot easier to stay calm and diffuse the situation that way.

For some reason, though, or maybe for several, applying this attitude in the other areas of my life is a much larger project. I've got a vision statement, but my goals and objectives start to get pretty hazy when I really start looking into all of this. See, I've been in the professional workplace for less than 10 years. I've been in many of my personal relationships for much, much longer than that. The emotional backlog is a bit more extensive. And I would say there's probably a stronger expectation of justice in this arena as well. There are more connection points and fewer disconnects. There's more trust, more vulnerability, more knowledge, more experience. You can call me one name - just one - and the shrapnel starts to fly. And I can probably do the same to you. So we're back to the start: the trick is finding out what those names are, what those accusations are, or even what those observations are, and then figuring out how to get around them in conflict.

My daughter is a huge, huge fan of one of Pixar's new movies, Monsters vs. Aliens. She loves it. And I have to say, I think it's pretty cute myself. But then, Pixar's pretty good about putting out kid movies that the parents can get into as well. In the movie, the president of the United States is portrayed as a little bit of a beefhead (voicework done by Stephen Colbert, which I find pleasantly amusing). I'm pretty sure they intended to model this character after George W., but I'm not here to say much about that. It's not the point. So anyway, as you can probably tell from the title of the movie, aliens are threatening to destroy the planet, and these monsters that the government has been hiding in an Area 51-type facility are enlisted to fight the aliens and save the planet. There's a scene where the president is meeting with his cabinet in this high-tech pentagon-ish conference room, and he says that he needs a latte. There are these two huge red buttons on the wall behind his chair. He starts to press one, and everyone screams and freaks out and tells him to stop. They tell him that this is the button that initiates nuclear war, and that the other button is the one that will dispense his latte. The thing is, the buttons are right next to each other, and they are absolutely identical, with no unique identifier of any kind. Of course there's the usual joke of 'who designed this thing anyway?' and then 'you did, sir'...har har har.

But as I was thinking through this whole button thing this week and weekend, I couldn't help but think of this scene. We all have buttons, and sometimes they are huge. And sometimes they look just like something else and there's absolutely no way for us to tell them apart. And if I can't tell them apart, how can I expect you to be able to? It's a recipe for disaster - none of us knows if we're going to get a cup of joe or the end of the world as we know it. Just the same, if I know that I'm going to have a volatile reaction to an action you might take, isn't it on me to do something about that? I can't control what you do, what you say, and definitely not what you think. But I can control how I react, how I process it, and how it affects me in the long run. So I think you gotta deprogram those buttons. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say - this is the truth about me. This is what God's word says about me. This is who He says I am, and this is what I choose to believe. And then you've gotta throw out the rest. One thing our conflict management instructor did not emphasize, that I think definitely bears pointing out, is that as you deprogram your own buttons, you have to keep from pressing someone else's. Otherwise, what's the point? Where's the health and value in working on how you react and ignoring how you act? I wish all of this was as easily done as it is written. I wish it didn't take quite so much work...or so much humility. But I'm grateful nonetheless that it works, that I've already seen it work and can be confident that it will continue to do so.

I'm so grateful for the reminder I had this week, in the midst of my thought process on this, that Jesus did not claim His full personal rights, and as a follower of Him, I must also forfeit my own. It's a truth that I tried to keep before me for a very long time, but somewhere along the way I started picking up entitlement vouchers and bags full of pride. It's a hard truth. But truth sets us free. And we all wanna be free.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

VOTD 01.10.10

Taken from a site I go to from time to time: This was today's entry.

Today's Verse
In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

— Psalm 118:5-6 (NIV)
Thoughts on Today's Verse...
The beginning of the year has been a trying time for people I care about. Maybe it's been that way for you or those you love. My prayer for you, and for them, is that they may know the comfort of God's presence. Whether it's the popular little poem "Footprints" or the familiar "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me," the presence of the Lord is absolutely vital to standing up against our anguish! The Lord does long to be with us, especially at those moments when we feel most alone. He told us that by experiencing anguish, alone, by himself on the cross.

My Prayer...
I am thankful, O God, that you refused to be God from a safe distance. Because you came and felt what it was like to be abandoned, forsaken, and alone, I know I can trust that I will never be forsaken by you. Please give me a clearer sense of your presence with me in my life today, I pray through Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

When the beating of your heart...

The last 48 hours have undoubtedly been the worst of the year. Granted we're only 9 days in, but still. They have been wretched.

Relationships have changed, some very permanently, and the combined pain of those adjustments is honestly a little bit crushing. I think one of the greatest disservices we can do each other is to assume we know another's heart. Whether we assume we know it to be good or evil, settled or wandering, peaceful or conflicted, whole or broken, there's no easier way to wreak havoc than to allow those assumptions to inform our actions toward the people we love. If my heart fails to stay in one place, do not assume it is permanently wandering. If it cries out, do not assume it is broken. If it falters, do not assume it is weak. If it chooses badly, do not assume it is evil. Ask me where my heart is, and listen, really listen when I try to put it into words. I'm trying to get to where I'm going, and if you're not careful, you will encumber an already difficult journey.

It's so much harder to listen than to assume and act. I get that. Especially when listening means such an active participation in experiencing both pain and healing. So I guess you have to pick your poison - do you suffer, or do they? I hope to always have the courage, the patience, the listen.

May you never step into a clearing only to see me angling you up.