Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Son Dexter

Every year my kids' elementary school holds a race right before Thanksgiving. The first place runner in each grade gets to bring home an actual turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Every year my kids plot and scheme and dream and "train" so they can win the turkey.

Every year Grace comes in second place.

Second place winners bring home a pie. This makes mom very happy, because I love pie. This makes Grace very angry, because she hates pie.

Last night at dinner she began discussing strategy for the next Thanksgiving race.

"Argh! It's always Bernadette!!! No matter how hard I try, she ALWAYS beats me. She wins every single year!"

Joking, I responded, "Maybe this year she'll get sick right before Thanksgiving."

All three girls broke out in a chorus of "Mom! That's not very nice! How could you say that?"

Eric looked thoughtful. "Actually, let's find out what she's allergic to and then sneak it into her food. That way she'll FOR SURE get sick before the race, and Grace can win."

There was stunned silence around the table.

Grace: "Gosh, Eric, we don't want to kill her."

Eric: "Well, if she dies she won't ever beat you in a race again."

Mom: "Easy there, Satan."

Eric: "WHAT? I'm just sayin', it's one idea."

The parenting manuals didn't cover this. That will be the title of my book, if I ever get around to writing one. It pretty adequately sums up life at my house.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten-Year Old B*tches, Sunday School, and Getting our Judgey On: A Little Chat About Motes and Beams

Grace: Mom, can people really get kicked out the church?

Me: Uh....well, um, yeah, I suppose if they do something really bad and it's not safe for other people at church to be around them...

Grace: Can I get kicked out of the church?

Me: What happened?

Grace: XX (Anonymous Child) said that the bishop can kick people out of church, and they can't come back, and he's going to kick me out because I don't go to the right Sunday School class.

Editorial comment here: Grace rarely ever goes to her "assigned" class, and it has quite a lot to do with XX, who is a little bee-yotch. It's not enough that she has to torment and harass my daughter IN the class; now she's appointed herself the God police to judge my daughter for avoiding the scene of emotional brutality? Cue the mama-bear claws now.

This was followed by a heart-to-heart talk about how Jesus Christ invites everyone--EVERYONE--to come to Him, and He's less concerned with technicalities like getting to the "right" Sunday School class, and more concerned with helping each of us be good and kind. We talked about how sometimes when we feel unhappy and miserable, we try to make other people feel bad, too, and that it says more about the person being mean than the victim of the meanness. We talked about who gets to have input in decisions like which Sunday School class to attend--that Grace gets a lot of input in the choice because it's her body & soul under discussion, that Mom gets a say because God assigned her to be Grace's mom & look out for her well-being--and because Mom loves Grace & cares for her--, that the Primary president and bishop get a little bit of a say because they accepted assignments from God to watch over the congregation, and they also love & care about Grace. And Anonymous Child XX gets zero say, because it's none of her damn business.

If there is one lousy, rotten thing that we church people are waaaaaay too good at, it's that all too often, we excel at judging, criticizing, and picking apart each others' perceived sins.

Here's the thing: I believe there are very limited, narrow circumstances where it's not only okay to pass some form of judgment; it's necessary and right. As a mom, I have the right and responsibility to use my judgment to protect my children. While I believe in redemption and forgiveness, I'm not going to knowingly leave my child alone with a convicted child predator because I want to be open-minded and tolerant. As a single woman, I sometimes make conscious decisions to not become involved with some men because their scars and brokenness are not a good fit with my scars and brokenness, and we would be very unhealthy together. I tend to avoid gossipy or negative people as much as I can, because I don't like the feeling that I have around them. I also generally avoid being around people who relish drama, because my life is quite busy enough for good and happy reasons, and I don't need extraneous uproar to distract me from the more important business of being a good mom, a good sister, a good daughter, and a good friend.

I have noticed that when I am feeling most critical toward others, I am always, ALWAYS feeling unhappy with myself. It's not about them; it's about me. I have noticed that when I am feeling chock full, brimming over with love, happy with myself and trusting God, I don't have the teeniest speck of judgment for others. I just love them.

Love is a whole different ball game from criticism. Love listens. Love wants to understand. Love doesn't condemn. Love points the way to healing and redemption. Love says, "I like being with you. I miss you. Tell me how I can help you. Help me understand your point of view." Love says, "Let's walk together,and help each other."

Love isn't always easy. It isn't intended to be. Love sent the most perfect, gentle and loving Man who ever lived to the cross. Thanks to His example, we have a blueprint for how to love each other.

Here's a surefire tip for navigating church life and home life and everything in between: if it's about fear, it's not of God. If it's about love, it's about God. And if you are wielding fear as a club to bring people to God....well, maybe stop and consider who is the author of fear and who is the author of peace and love, and maybe reconsider who you are following.

Fear asks what other people will think. Love asks what you & God think--because your opinion, thoughts, and feelings matter to Him.

Fear threatens shunning, rejection, and being kicked out. Love invites you in, all of you, even in your messy incompleteness.

Fear offers the damning illusion that other people's flaws somehow make you better. Love covers your flaws with mercy, and frees you to forgive the flaws of others and extend a helping hand.

Fear creates rigid rules and artificial boundaries under the false impression that forcing compliance will lead to safety. Love honors free will as one of the greatest gifts of God, and naturally leads to wise choices as love begets understanding.

Fear sees others' actions as reflecting on us. Love celebrates and encourages personal agency.

Fear leads to unhealthy dependence. Love leads to joyful interdependence.

Fear says that questioning is wrong and bad and scary. Love says that questions are the beginning of answers, and that no question is too big or tough for God, even if the question is screamed and hollered.

Fear says people do things because they are evil. Love says only God knows the heart, and people often do things out of deep hurt, longstanding pain, familial patterns, and ignorance. Love sets us free to learn and do better, and to allow others the same privilege.

Fear says you'll get in trouble. Love offers you help.

Fear makes us suspicious of others' motives and actions. Love knows we are all in this together, and love extends grace.

A couple of years ago, in a women's meeting at church, we were discussing ways that we could show love for each other. Sisters shared stories of kindnesses performed, loving words spoken, generous gifts received, and huge sacrifices made for each other. One sister offered the most profound and touching example. "As I look over my life," she said, "I am so grateful for the acts of service, large and small, that I have received. But I think the greatest kindness of all has come simply when others have refrained from judgment."


Here's to opening doors and hearts, living less in fear and more in love, to ignoring the motes and focusing more on the beams, and to extending more grace and forgiveness, even to little ten-year old bee-yotches--who probably need less of my momma-bear claws and more of my momma-bear love.

In the end, love always wins. Always.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Easter Sunday

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

One of my favorite hymns is the quintessential anthem of redemption Amazing Grace. It's only in part because I have my very own amazing Grace, who continues to amaze and astound me every day, as I relish the wonder of being her mother. Each of my babies has been rocked to sleep by the words and the tune celebrating the endless depths of Christ's power to redeem.

The story of Easter is the story of John Newton, who wrote the original lines to the hymn. He could be the poster child for the power of redemption. Law-breaking, atheist, notorious for his profanity, incarcerated multiple times for his rebellion, and actively involved as a slave trader for much of his early life, Newton became a minister, ardent anti-slavery activist, and prolific writer of hymns, sermons, and gospel lessons.

The beauty of the grace he celebrated in his most famous hymn is that we don't remember him as one of many faceless slave traders in history. We don't know him for the violence and brutality that marked his early life. We don't remember him as a great minister. In fact, we don't really think about him much at all. His legacy is the peace and faith and hope and crowning power of Christ's wondrous work, as told in the words to his song.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
So long as life endures

The story of Easter is the story of second chances. And third and fourth and one-hundred-seventy-seventh chances. It's the story of beginning anew. It's the promise that all things, no matter how broken, can be made whole. It's the story of all things being turned to our good and to God's glory.

It's the story of grace so powerful that it can root out our sins, change our very hearts, and make us holy. That's some seriously amazing grace.

You can rise above whatever is holding you down. You can be more than you were. Whatever you were yesterday, you can be something more today. It's never too late, it's never too much, and it's never beyond the power of His love.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come. 
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Amazing grace. Redemption. To overcome a life enslaved by chains or a life holding the chains on others, for healing the wounds we've received or the wounds we've inflicted, there is only One with power to bring us above the pain, hopelessness, suffering, sin, and despair of life.

Let His incomparable, transcendent, and truly amazing grace lead you home.